AFC-U16 tournament shows the level of disparity across Asian nations

Photo: AFC

The AFC U-16 qualifying tournament has rumbled into the second day of matches, which will continue as the week goes on (I believe). So far though they have shown that they is a great disparity between the top sides in Asia (tier 1/2) and the rest. 

The gap between the top and the rest is too great

The top-ranked Asian sides, those placed in the 1st and 2nd pots, and few from pot 3, have shown that the disparity between the highest and lowest-ranked nations in Asia is far greater than anyone would like it to be. 

Some scorelines in the qualifying competition have been stupid, and the AFC needs to take some of the blame for this. In their defence, they'll say that having teams being able to play anyone is the fairest way to go about the draw, but at the same time seeing kids being smashed 16-0, 10-0 and 15-1 isn't the best way of trying to develop football. Regardless of how much positive coaching those kids are getting (not all will be) losing 16-0 will do nothing for their confidence. 

The gap is between say, South Korea and Taiwan is huge, which was reflected in the scoreline - Korea winning the match 10-0. Other similar scorelines have been registered across the games that have already been played, Guam lost 16-0 to North Korea, Northern Mariana Islands lost 15-1 to Indonesia, Macau lost 6-1 to the mighty Timor-Leste.

These scorelines show that the smaller nations have a lot of work to do if they even want to make the scoreline more respectable when they lose. To have a chance of beating sides deemed the powerhouses of the region, then the work they need to put in needs to increase tenfold, because right now even though a lot of these nations have improved, they are still so far behind the top nations of the Asia.

It's no good having kids getting 16-0 hiding

The U-16 tournament is a great idea from the AFC, to give these kids more exposure and game time experience. However, getting a resounding 16-0 hiding will do nothing for those players involved in these games. The same goes for all the other youngsters who have been on the end of these kinds of hammerings.

The AFC have therefore unintentionally done a bad deed by trying to do a good deed. In trying to give these kids more game time experience, they have also had a hand in ruining their confidence. I'm normally against grouping sides together who are of a similar level, but maybe at this age group, it should be more about building confidence and trying to improve their level instead of having a seeded draw.

For example, the teams who are losing by 10 goals or more barely have any time on the ball. They have spent all their time running around chasing after and trying to stop the other team scoring. I may as well got those teams to pay me, and I could have sat on my scooter and they could have chased me along the road for 90 minutes for what good it would do them. 

The AFC is not only at fault here by the way. Each countries association needs to work more on developing youth football in their countries. A lot of nations involved don't even have a regular youth league, and without researching it, it wouldn't be ridiculous to guess, those teams getting hammered are most likely the countries without any regular structured youth football. At the same time, a lot of smaller nations like Guam and Taiwan are trying to do a lot of work for youth football right now, but they could always do with more help and support because the gap as we have mentioned is massive.

There is no easy answer for this, but I believe the AFC shouldn't be putting these kids against each other when everyone knows the outcome is going to be a huge defeat. Those kids on the end of the defeat won't have learnt much from the experience and will leave the game feeling disheartened by the outcome. The one hope is it won't turn them off playing football for good. 

The usual suspects do well

Japan, South Korea, and China as expected have done well in this competition and those three countries are certainly developing youth football. Japan and South Korea are two countries who have excelled at youth level for some time now, with South Korea getting to the final of the U19 World Cup, only to lose to Ukraine.

Japan do a lot to try and help out other Asian nations (not just specifically East Asia) and they do this because they have a belief that by raising the level in Asia they will also have to raise their own level. And by doing this, they will then compete better on the world stage. Even with Japan's help a lot of the smaller East Asian nations are lagging behind their counterparts.

There have been a few small exceptions which show things could be slowly changing. Hong Kong have picked up a win against Singapore, and Mongolia only lost 2-1 to Australia, but then went on to lose 7-0 to Vietnam.

It's difficult to look too much into results for this age group, and that is why the big losses could be doing more damage than what good the kids are taking from participating in the tournament. Therefore, I believe the AFC should put more pressure on their associations to have youth leagues, and also I think the AFC should try to match the level between the sides a bit more. The idea is to develop footballers not crush dreams.

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