Vietnam U16 squad has potential to spring a few surprises

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Vietnam is placed in Group C alongside Japan, Australia and East Timor at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Under-16 finals after a draw in Tashkent, Uzbekistan on Thursday.

The tournament will be played in October, organizers said.

The 2006 champions and 2008 semifinalists Japan are a big rival and so is Australia, but the young Vietnamese footballers are expected finish the group stage in second spot.

There is a reason to expect the young squad to pull of some unexpected wins at the biennial event. In the qualifying stages in Thailand last year, they defeated both hosts Thailand and the 2008 runners-up Korea Republic; and only lost 1-2 to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK).

Ten years ago, Vietnamese U16 players beat China 3-2 in the central city of Da Nang and only lost to Japan in the fight for the third place.

One more reason for optimism for the young Vietnamese players is that they can Australia. In the qualifiers last year the young socceroos were held 2-2 at home by Malaysia and had a hard time taking a 2-1 away win in Kuala Lumpur.

Vietnam Football Federation (VFF) General Secretary Tran Quoc Tuan said, "In AFC youth tournaments, the teams of all the countries in the region are almost the same. If the Vietnamese young players do well, they won't be afraid of any team."

Tuan said the U16 squad will train together in advance before leaving for Uzbekistan for the tournament.

Hoang Van Phuc, coach of the young players who beat hosts Thailand and the Korean Republic last year, said, "The Vietnamese U16s have made good progress based on confidence and skills. They proved themselves in the qualifiers last year and during a practice trip in Qatar in December 2009."

Phuc said that if VFF takes better care of the young players, they will be able to upset big rivals and go far in Uzbekistan.

Also at the October 24-November 7 competition, hosts Uzbekistan will play against Tajikistan, Jordan and Indonesia in Group A.

Defending champions Iran will clash with Syria, Oman and DPRK in Group B. It will be very hard for Iran because the DPRK were runners-up in 2004 and 2006 while Syria reached the last four in 2006.

Group D will see three West Asians 2008 semifinalists UAE, Iraq and Kuwait clash with two-time winners China, who clinched the title in 1992 and 2004.

The two winners will fight for the championship. There will be no 3rd and 4th place playoffs.

The four semifinalists will represent Asia at the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) U17 World Cup next year.

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