Football Tribe SEA Editor
The recent AFF U22 Championship was much maligned for its poor scheduling, but the sheer number of unavailable players may be a blessing in disguise, especially in the case of Thailand.
2019 and 2020 are shaping up to be crucial years for youth football in South-East Asia. The qualifiers for the AFC U23 championships begins in March before the 2019 SEA Games will be held in November and December. Thailand will then host the continent-wide AFC U23 Championships next January, which in themselves serve as a qualifying tournament for the Tokyo Olympics in the summer of 2020.
Given the hectic schedule ahead, no time can be wasted in preparation. The return of the AFF U22 Championship was met with some fanfare, before the withdrawals of Laos, Singapore and Brunei cast doubt over the competition’s organization. The fact that the tournament was set to take place outside the FIFA calendar and clash with the start of many domestic leagues in the region further added to the sense that the tournament would add little value.
Leading a set of reserve players to face off against other back-up sides in the region seems like a futile exercise, especially with the crucial AFC U23 qualifiers set to take place in less than a months time. However, with Thailand set to host that tournament next year, the qualifying round serves as just another set of friendlies and a comparatively stress-free chance for coach Alexandre Gama to get his team into shape.
Vietnam will likely find the situation similar, as many of the players who are set to take place in next month’s qualifying round already played together for the senior team in recent months, and will be ready from the get-go even without the help of the regional tournament as preparation.
As such, the AFF U22 Championship found its value in being a breeding ground for new names and faces to break through. For Thailand, captain Saringkan Promsupa established himself as a potentially excellent member of Gama’s future first team. Meanwhile, Jaroensak Wonggorn and Anon Samakorn also established themselves as potential future stars. For Vietnam, the previously overlooked Tran Danh Trung, Tran Thanh Son or Le Minh Binh may also be on coach Park Hang-Seo’s mind for future tournaments after their performance in Cambodia.
Ultimately, while the scheduling may have been a point of frustration for coaches, the AFF U22 Championship can be accredited with expanding the pool of talent by forcing teams to turn to other options. Only time will tell if the groundwork laid during this tournament comes to bear fruit during the more consequential upcoming tournaments.