U23 Asian Cup qualifiers: Japan set blistering pace, Saudis win opener, Korea stumble

September 8 – Japan and Jordan stamped early claims for places at the AFC U23 Asian Cup Qatar 2024 finals with big opening group wins. Japan beat Pakistan 6-0 while Jordan put 9 past Brunei Darussalem.

South Korea had a tricky start to their campaign for the title they won in 2020, losing 2-0 to Qatar, though the result will not be counted as Qatar are already qualified as hosts of the 16 team finals.

In Group E Uzbekistan and Iran both had opening game wins over Afghanistan (7-0) and Hong Kong (3-0).

Uzbekistan were champions in 2018 and runners-up at the most recent edition in 2022, are hosting Qualifiers for a third time as they stage Group E in Tashkent. Iran missed out on qualifying last time out on goal difference.

Defending champions Saudi Arabia, whose 2022 win made them the fifth different winner in as many editions, won their opening game in Group J against first time qualifiers for this round, Mongolia.

A total of 42 teams kicked off the qualifiers for the U23 finals playing in 11 groups over the course of a three-matchday week between September 6 to 12 (11 groups – nine of four and two of three), at centralised venues across the continent.

Group winners, plus the four best second-placed teams overall, will qualify for the finals, to be played April 15 to May 3, 2024.
Eight teams – Australia, Iraq, Japan, Jordan, Korea Republic, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan – have been present at every finals to date, while 19 sides are looking for  a maiden appearance in 2024.

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