March 2 – After a gap of five years, the AFC’s U20 Championship burst into action with hosts Uzbekistan in a near capacity Bunyodkor Stadium beating Syria and Vietnam continuing their progression on the world stage with a win over Australia.

Uzbekistan opened the tournament with an impressive opening ceremony combining traditional Uzbek music and dances with mesmerising light and fire displays.

The U20s then lit the local flame further with Abbosbek Fayzullaev free kick flying into the Syrian net eight minutes before half time, sending the crowd into celebration.

Uzbekistan went two ahead midday through the second half when Fayzullayev’s in-swinging corner led to a goal-line scramble and the Syrians putting the ball into their own net.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the evening was Australia’s 1-0 loss to Vietnam at the Istiqlol Stadium.

Despite having to defend deep early on, Vietnam scored against the run of play in the sixth minute when Khuat Van Khang released Quoc Viet, who burst through the Australian defence before finding the space to slot home the opener.

Vietnam have made progress at every level of both the men’s and women’s international game in recent years. The Vietnamese now face Qatar on Saturday, while Australia will hope to bounce back take on Iran.

It was a Mohammad Hazbavi second half penalty that secured Iran a 1-0 win over Qatar in their Group B match at the Istiqlol Stadium.

The win gives three-time winners Iran a head start in the race while Qatar have it all to do after the defeat against a fast improving Vietnam.

In the other tie on opening day, ten-man Iraq powered past Indonesia 2-0 at Lokomotiv Stadium. Charbel Shamoon’s sending off and a penalty miss by Abdulrazzaq Qassim.

Hayder Abdulkareem gave the Iraqis the lead in the 28th minute before Charbel Shamoon was dismissed in first half injury time. Iraqi captain Abdulrazzaq Qassim missed from the spot with 16 minutes remaining but Mohammed Jameel scored a late second for Iraq to put the result beyond doubt.

Today sees the entry of three of the tournament heavyweights in groups C and D. Last time round beaten finalists South Korea start their campaign against Tajikistan, while Japan face China and 2018 champions Saudi Arabia face the Kyrgyz Republic.

The tournament will qualify four AFC nations to the U20 World Cup 2023 to be hosted in May/June in Indonesia. It is a revisioning of the U19 tournament that was last played in 2018.

The 2020 edition was scheduled to take place in Uzbekistan but was postponed twice due to the Covid pandemic and then adjusted to an U20 format to qualify teams for the Indonesian-hosted U20 World Cup finals.

Spread over 19 days, the cities of Tashkent and Fergana will host the 16 teams across four venues. The final will be played March 18, but before then the tournament will see eight former champions in action.

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