Following an exhilarating round of matches at the 2020 AFC U23 Championship, FOX Sports Asia football editor Gabriel Tan picks eight players that shone the brightest from Match Day 2.
With two rounds played and one remaining, the 2020 AFC U23 Championship has claimed its first victims.
Japan, China PR and DPR Korea are the first three teams to be eliminated from the competition and the Japanese’s demise will come as a huge shock, considering they were one of the pre-tournament favourites.
View this post on Instagram
Who will qualify for the quarter finals? Who will be heading home? It’s all-or-nothing in the final round of group games! . . #asianfootball #afcu23 #afcu23championship #thailand #iraq #australia #bahrain #qatar #japan #saudiarabia #syria #uzbekistan #southkorea #china #iran #vietnam #northkorea #jordan #uae
On the flipside, Korea Republic are looking good and are the first team through to the quarter-finals after picking up their second win in as many games, but they were far from the only ones to impress.
Here, FOX Sports Asia takes a closer look at the Top 8 from Match Day 2 of the AFC U23 Championship.
1) MOHAMED MARHOON (BAHRAIN)
Bahrain may remain rooted to the bottom of Group A but they gave a far better account of themselves in Saturday’s 2-2 draw with Iraq, after being hammered 5-0 by Thailand three days earlier.
They had no shortage of players who rose to the occasion but none showed greater endeavour that Mohamed Marhoon, who was always willing to track back to win possession but also popped up with a crucial 86th-minute equaliser.
2) NICHOLAS D’AGOSTINO (AUSTRALIA)
Over the first two games, Reno Piscopo has been a real livewire for Australia but, in terms of sheer impact in Saturday’s 2-1 win over Thailand, Nicholas D’Agostino was the standout.
Twice, the Perth Glory striker did well to find space in the area and put away both chances and – despite his tender years – he seems to have a poacher’s uncanny ability to make his way into good scoring positions.
💪 “I don’t think there’s much that can stop us now!”
— #AFCU23 (@theafcdotcom) January 14, 2020
3) SORAWIT PANTHONG (THAILAND)
Thailand’s free-flowing displays has seen much of the spotlight shining on the likes of Supachok Sarachat and Suphanat Mueanta, but the damage the deal in the attacking third is only possible due to the work done in the engine room by Sorawit Panthong.
Sorawit is less conservative than midfield partner Kritsada Kaman but never shirks his defensive duties, and also does plenty to get the Thais on the front foot with his tidy distribution.
4) ABDULELAH AL-AMRI (SAUDI ARABIA)
The 0-0 draw between Saudi Arabia and Qatar on Sunday had more excellence in the defensive aspect of the game rather than at the opposite end on the field, so it should come as no surprise that one who caught the eye was Abdulelah Al-Amri.
While Saudi Arabian sides – both at national team and club level – do not often employ a three-man defence, Al-Amri looks extremely comfortable with this system used by the U-23s and should have a bright future with his ball-playing ability.
5) LEE DONG-JUN (KOREA REPUBLIC)
Having come off the bench to rescue Korea Republic on Match Day 1 with a 93rd-minute winner against China, Lee Dong-jun was rewarded with a place in the starting XI against Iran and took his opportunity with aplomb.
AFC U23 Championship Highlights – Iran vs Korea Republic
The tricky winger opened the scoring in the 22nd minute with a clinical finish on the rebound, and gave Iran left-back Matin Karimzadeh a torrid time with his pace and skill on the ball.
6) ALAA ALDIN DALI (SYRIA)
He may have played all of 65 minutes in the competition so far but, in terms of impact over the first two rounds and especially on Match Day 2, Alaa Aldin Dali has been Syria’s hero.
Like he did with his 94th-minute equaliser against Qatar, Aldin Dali came off the bench to pop up with an 88th-minute winner against Japan and Syria coach Ayman Hakeem must now be conflicted between starting him or keeping him as the ultimate impact substitute.
7) ABDULLA ABDULLAEV (UZBEKISTAN)
Uzbekistan have no shortage of heroes from the triumphant side of 2018 featuring again at the tournament two years on, including Jasurbek Yakhshiboev, Azizjon Ganiev and Bobir Abdixolikov.
But one new face that has really caught the eye has been Abdulla Abdullaev, the deep-lying playmaker who offers the Uzbeks so much more than a shield for the backline and resembles a certain Andrea Pirlo with his composure and understanding of the game.
8) NGUYEN DUC CHIEN (VIETNAM)
Although the likes of Nguyen Quang Hai, Ha Duc Chinh and Nguyen Tien Linh were the most talked-about in the Vietnam team ahead of the tournament, they have largely struggled to fire and it is the defensive players who have stood up in back-to-back 0-0 draws.
Monday’s stalemate against United Arab Emirates saw the backline put up a resilient display but they received plenty of help from Nguyen Duc Chien, the deepest of Vietnam’s midfield trio who always dropped back to offer an extra body while also retaining possession well with his tidy distribution.