Japan and South Korea have again met expectations like they do in most AFC (Asian Football Confederation) competitions they enter. To qualify for the Under 17 World Cup Asian sides had to get to the semi-final of the AFC under 16 tournament. The four teams who made it to the semi-final were Japan, South Korea, Tajikistan and Australia.
The U17 World Cup will be played in Peru next year (2019).
All competing East Asian sides topped their first-round groups
Japan, South Korea and North Korea all topped their first round groups. Japan ended on 7 points, finishing above Tajikistan, Thailand and Malaysia. North Korea finished on 7 points and ended the group stage ahead of Oman, Yemen and Jordan. South Korea finished the first round on 9 points, with 12 goals scored and 0 conceded to make them firm favourites to the win the competition. They finished ahead of Australia, Iraq and Afghanistan in the group stage.
Because of the dominant performances in the first round group stage, this offered up some hope that all 3 East Asian sides would make it to the U17 World Cup.
North and South Korea defeated by underdog Tajikistan
No one expected Tajikistan to get out of their group, never mind get all the way to the final but that is what they did. Losing their opening game of the competition 6-2 against Malaysia seemed to indicate what people thought, that the Tajiks wouldn’t offer much resistance and exit at the first round stage.
After that first match hiding though, they went on to draw 0-0 with Japan, and then beat Thailand. This set them up with a quarterfinal matchup against North Korea. At this point, people presumed that would be that North Korea would get the win and the Tajiks would be off home. It didn’t end there though, as the Tajiks drew with North Korea and eliminated them on penalties and then performed the exact same trick on the North’s southern neighbours and proceeded to eliminate the South Koreans also. At this point though it meant the South Koreans had still achieved qualification for the U17 World Cup but the North Koreans did not.
Japan win in the final
Japan eventually became the team to end the Tajik fairytale, as they won the final 1-0. Japan lifted the trophy and had the player of the tournament but people who follow Asian football were surprised by this Tajik team, and will be eagerly watching to see if they can progress to help improve their senior side.
Jun Nishikawa was nominated the player of the tournament showing great vision and intricate touches, the creative player shined in the final and grabbed the tournament winning goal in the process. One to watch for the future for sure.
The four Asian sides to qualify for the U17 World Cup – South Korea, Japan, Tajikistan, Australia.