June 18 – The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) have taken another step towards seeing the return of international competition this year having held the final tournament draws for its U-19 and U-16 championships.
The U-19 Championship is scheduled to take place in Uzbekistan October 14-31 and is expected to go ahead as planned. The U-16 Championship had been in the calendar for September but after discussion with the Bahrain FA the dates have been pushed back to November 25 to December 12.
The AFC has already rescheduled the restart of the group stages of World Cup 2022 and Asian Cup 2023 qualifying for October and November this year. Completing match days 7-10 in these two windows this year would qualify the top 12 to begin playing in 2021 in two groups of six for the four automatic qualifying spots and one challenger spot for Qatar 2022.
Of FIFA’s five confederations, the AFC is the first to commit to calendar dates for the return of international football, though has emphasised that it can only do so with player and public health concerns prioritised. The ability of teams to travel within the region with many country borders closed will also be an issue.
In a recorded interview on the AFC website, general secretary Dato Windsor John recognised the hunger of fans, players and associations to return to football as soon as possible and commended stakeholders for the work they were doing to keep their communities engaged. However, he emphasised that football can only return when it is safe to do so.
Uzbekistan is fortuitously one of the safest AFC member federations where that can happen. In the draw that was held via video from AFC headquarters in Kuala Lumpur, title holders Saudi Arabia were drawn against Australia, Vietnam, Laos.
Korea Republic, the tournament’s most successful team with 12 titles and the runners-up in 2018, were drawn with Japan, Iraq and Bahrain. Four-time winners Islamic Republic of Iran will meet hosts Uzbekistan, Indonesia and Cambodia in group play, while Qatar, Tajikistan, Malaysia and Yemen were also drawn together.
The top two teams from each group qualify for the quarter finals with the top four national overall qualifying for the U-20 World Cup Indonesia 2021.
The U-16 draw saw three-time winners and defending champions Japan drawn in the same group as Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and China PR
Tajikistan, the 2018 runners-up, were drawn alongside Oman, Yemen and the United Arab Emirates. Two-time champions Korea Republic, who finished third in 2018, were drawn with Australia, India and Uzbekistan. DPR Korea, winners in 2010 and 2014, will be up against hosts Bahrain, Islamic Republic of Iran and Qatar in Group A.
The top four teams will qualify for the FIFA U-17 World Cup Peru 2021.
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