The 2023 AFC U-17 Asian Cup was won in convincing fashion by Japan, who defeated South Korea in the final 3-0. The top scorer was Japan’s Gaku Nawata, who also won the tournament MVP award. This article covers 23 players representing 12 out of the 16 teams that participated. We opted to focus on players still play domestically so players who had already made the jump to large European clubs were not included.
Yudong Wang (AM, ’06, Zhejiang FC)
Yudong Wang played as an attacking midfielder for China in this tournament. It did not exactly take a genius to see that he was a cut above the rest of the Chinese players. Wang is primarily a goal scorer, best suited to a role as a withdrawn striker or an inside forward. He is very good at connecting with teammates and working through tight spaces with dribbling. This makes him very dangerous in and around the box. He is not really a ball carrier but when he is 1v1 in the final 3rd he is an extremely clean dribbler who can change direction quickly. He is also very good at playing 1-2s with teammates and using quick off-the-ball movement to generate shots. However, he is not really a traditional #10. He is not going to be splitting defences open with his passing. He did drop deeper to link up with teammates but he was mostly just playing outlet passes to the wings or bouncing the ball backwards. Wang does a lot of defensive work. Wang suffered a little bit from being overly right-footed. He tracks back and is not afraid of backing out of a tackle. He is not a man mountain but he is a little stronger than his peers. He is also a little faster than average but he is no Usain Bolt. Wang recently signed for Zhejiang F.C. but has apparently been unattached since 2021. I am not sure of his exact situation but I assume he has been playing somewhere in the last two years for how good he is. I am not sure that he quite has what it takes for the top-5 leagues but he looks like he could at least be good enough for the next tier down.
Dzhovidon Kushvakhtov (DM, ’06, Ravshan)
Dzhovidon Kushvaktov played as a defensive midfielder for Tajikistan in this tournament. The main draw of him is that he is a ball recovery god. He covers a ton of ground and is extremely aggressive. He is not necessarily the biggest player but he throws himself into challenges and bullies opponents physically. He has the speed to close players down and is constantly mopping up loose balls. In possession, things are not quite as good. Kushvakhtov’s technical skills are good enough that I felt he was worth including in this article but just barely. He played a few penetrative passes but for the most part, he kept things conservative. You would hope this would at least lead to ball retention but that was not really the case. Part of the problem is that Tajikistan was not that great at stringing passing moves together in general and as such there were not always great passing options. But Kushvaktov still had a pass completion rate that left a lot to be desired. He also took a lot of terrible long-range shots for a defensive midfielder. I don’t know that Kushvaktov’s overall potential is that high but I think his ball-winning ability could lead him to a higher level than the Tajik league.
Abubakr Sulyamanov (CM, ’06, Barqchi)
Abubakr Sulyamanov played as a box-to-box midfielder for Tajikistan and also served as the team’s captain. Sulyamanov stood out for his work ethic and his relatively high technical skills. He is quite fast and was able to use that to catch opponents off guard and win the ball back high up the pitch. Sulyamanov is extremely tenacious and that allows him to win a lot of physical battles despite being quite a small player. In possession, he is very good at dribbling out of tight spaces. He is able to make tight turns and get out of pressure very efficiently. Sometimes his application of this ability was a little bit inconsistent. He did have the ball roll away on him a few times and have a few slightly bobbly touches. But he was also under almost constant pressure as the main source of ball progression for the Tajiks. One area Suymanaov could maybe improve a bit is in the final 3rd. He did show some decent vision but his accuracy when trying to play the killer ball was a bit lacking. Again, this was partly due to Tajikistan being quite overmatched in most of their games. But there were a few overhit deliveries or moments when he could not quite thread the needle on his final pass. Overall though, I think Sulyamanov had a very strong tournament and his ability to be a difference-maker for a smaller nation is a good sign of his potential to move to a higher level. Tajik players do not move abroad very often but those that are most successful usually end up in Eastern Europe or Turkey. I think that’s a reasonable guess as to Sulyamanaov’s ceiling.
Masrur Gafurov (ST, ’06, Barqchi)
Masrur Gafurov played as a striker for Tajikistan in this tournament. As the striker for a team who spent most of the time defending, he had limited opportunities but he took them incredibly efficiently (at least in terms of generating shots). Gufarov generated shots in two main ways. Firstly with off-the-ball movement when the ball was in wide areas. He was extremely good at evading defenders with his movement. Secondly, by making runs into channels during transition moments. Gufarov’s intelligent movement and speed made him a real source of danger for opposing teams. Like many of the Tajk players, Gafurov is quite small (the average height for a man in Tajikistan is only 5’6) but he is very tenacious. Gafurov is extremely proficient in physical battles, including aerial duels for his size. He also tracks back to defend regularly. However, it should be noted that he has a January birthday and is, therefore, one of the oldest players in the tournament. So potential suitors should watch carefully as he transitions to senior football in order to see if his strength translates. On the ball, Gafurov is a bit limited. He is not a great dribbler and his first touch lets him down sometimes. Overall though, Gafurov has a great skillset that could easily see him go to a mid-tier league in Europe or a bigger league in Asia.
Talal Haji (ST, ’07, Ittihad)
Talal Haji was the main striker for Saudi Arabia in this tournament. He has a lot of indicators that would normally suggest that he has elite potential. Firstly, being born in September of 2007, he’s one of the youngest players at the tournament but was still a nailed-on starter on a very competitive team. Secondly, despite being younger than most of his opponents, his physical profile really stood out. Most of his goals and chances were the result of simply bullying his way through the opposition. He is above average in height and is very broad. He’s not necessarily the fastest player ever but he is faster than average and that makes him very hard to stop once he gets going. He is also quite good at using his frame to post up on opponents and progress the ball in that way. But despite these genuinely exciting things, there is a big question mark around Haji. His technical on-the-ball skills truly are quite bad. He loses the ball constantly because he is way too slow to take action with the ball at his feet. He can post up on defenders, sure, but after he muscles past them it takes him an eon to do anything, and that constantly leads to potentially promising moves dying at his feet. Now, this might partially be a function of being one of the youngest players. His physical development is clearly a big reason he is able to have an impact against older players but it seems his brain has not quite caught up and the speed of the play is difficult for him. But because he is really young, that could also change. If he does improve on the ball, even just getting himself up to an average level, then I think he would be extremely hard to stop. It’s pretty rare for Saudi players to move abroad because the financial strength of the league inflates the salaries they can demand domestically. That alone makes it unlikely that we’ll ever see Haji in Europe but if he can adapt to play the game at a higher pace he just might be worth taking the risk for a big club (that’s a big “if” though).
Nawaf Al-Bishri (W, ’06, Al Hazem)
Nawaf Al-Bishir played as a winger in Saudi Arabia’s 4-3-3 formation. His biggest strength, in my view, was his off-the-ball movement. He was extremely adept at getting in behind opposing defences with runs off the shoulder of a defender and at ghosting in at the back post to get on the end of crosses. Al-Bishiri is a volume dribble. He attempts to dribble past an opponent pretty much every time he receives the ball. His success rate is not very high and he loses the ball constantly but he does produce the occasional moment of magic. If he can get a little more consistent on that front then he would be a lot more dangerous. As it stands though that’s pretty much his whole game, off-the-ball running and attempting a dozen dribbles a game. I noticed he was a little bit reticent to use his left foot so that also holds him back a bit. He does not do very much defending. He is fairly quick which pairs well with his off-the-ball movement. He’s a pretty limited player but he utilised his limited skillset to generate a lot of shots, mostly for himself but the chances he created for others were quite dangerous. So I think he could at least become a solid player in the Saudi League, especially if he improves on the ball a little bit.
Mitchell Glasson (ST, ’06, Sydney FC)
Mitchell Glasson played as a striker for Australia in this tournament, though he sometimes rotated into wide areas depending on who else was on the pitch for the Joeys. Glasson is a physically strong and mobile striker with slightly above-average on-the-ball skills. Glasson has strong off-the-ball movement which, combined with his strength, makes him a real force in the opposing penalty area. Because he was sometimes starting from wider areas he created a lot of interesting angles with his runs. Glasson is also a fairly good passer and strong in the air. This means that Glasson can serve as a target man. He can hold the ball up and link up with teammates. He is good at changing the point of an attack with outlet passes but he is not really going to split opposing defences open with his passing. However, his dribbling is quite poor which limits what he can do in the build-up. It also slows him down a bit in the final 3rd because if he has to beat someone to get a shot off it pretty much isn’t happening. Glasson is exceptionally fast but his off-the-ball movement does make him good at getting in behind defences. Overall I think his potential is quite good. Glasson recently signed a first-team contract with Sydney F.C. Sydney F.C. has a very productive academy but most of those players only become successful after leaving, as Sydney has struggled to integrate those players into their first team. So Glasson’s development will depend on his ability to get regular minutes, which may come at the NPL level for the time being. If all goes perfectly I think he could make it to a good team in the Scottish Premiership or the English Championship, which is where a lot of top Australians end up.
Daniel Bennie (W, ’06, Perth Glory)
Daniel Bennie played mostly as a winger for Australia in this tournament but he also rotated into the centre-forward role from time to time. Bennie is a player that possesses a lot of pace and power, with just enough technical ability to hold it all together. Bennie is very good at making runs into channels and was a frequent outlet for Australian transitions. He was also quite good at linking up with teammates. He could use his strength to hold off opponents and he demonstrated some good vision to pick out passes. That said though, he wasn’t quite consistent enough in successfully completing those passes. He sometimes took too long to get the ball out of his feet or didn’t quite get the weighting of the pass correct. His clumsiness on the ball also hurt his dribbling quite a bit, he wasn’t able to consistently beat players 1v1. There were also a few times when he wasn’t able to get a shot off because he just wasn’t quite coordinated enough. If he can develop the technical aspect of his game a bit more then he could be very dangerous but as it stands I think his defects will hold him back from reaching the truly elite levels of the game. Still, though, he’s signed a first-team contract with Perth Glory after some strong performances with their NPL team. So if he continues to get reps in against senior players, especially at the A-League level, he could develop into quite a good player. As it stands I think he projects to be a strong A-League player and then make a jump to the second tier of European leagues (almost invariably Scotland).
Adel Abbas Qasem (AM, ’08, Al-Tilal)
Abdel Abbas Qasem played as a #10 for Yemen in this tournament and was a real gem of the team. Qasem is a high-volume and creative dribbler. He likes to come deep to receive the ball and then run at opposing defences. He is very good at receiving the ball under pressure, and adept at turning out of pressure. From there he could really carve through opposing defences with technique and quick changes of direction. Sometimes his dribbling was a little excessive. He would hold onto the ball for a little too long or dribble in areas of the pitch that might get him into trouble at higher levels. Qasem shoots a lot, again, sometimes a little excessively. He doesn’t exclusively take bad shots but against set defences he can be a bit wasteful. He plays like someone who has been the best player on every team he has ever been a part of. But he is very good at creating separation from defenders to get those shots off which is a good sign for his long-term potential. Qasem is very dangerous in transition. He makes good decisions to pick out teammates and when to shoot himself and of course his dribbling makes him a threat to just dribble through defences on his own. Being born in 2008, Qasem is one of the youngest players at the tournament, as well as one of the best. So I think his potential is incredibly high. Yemen has almost no history of exporting players, so it’s hard to say where Qasem might go (he also can’t move abroad for another three years). But he’s clearly a special talent so I will say he could at least reach a big Asian League (though I’m guessing the Saudi Pro League won’t be an option).
Jeerapong Chamsakul (CB, ’07, Chonburi FC)
Jeerapong Chamsakul played as a centre-back in this tournament and stood out for his aerial prowess and his ability on the ball. Despite being only 5’9, Chamsakul was dominant in the air. He has a great vertical leap. He was a major danger from attacking set pieces throughout the tournament. His lack of size might preclude him from being a centre-back at a higher level but at least for now, it was not a major problem. He has a 2007 birthday so his ability to keep up physically was particularly impressive. Chamsakul is extremely smooth with the ball at his feet. He showed the ability to play line-breaking passes under pressure. His decision-making was not always perfect, sometimes he put teammates in a bad spot, but on the whole, his vision and passing ability really stood out. Chamsakul defended quite conservatively, preferring to sweep up loose balls rather than make aggressive moves to win the ball back. His defensive positioning was excellent. He was not forced to face many dribblers so it is hard to get a good read on how good he is in those situations. I did observe him getting beat once or twice but there were also a few beautifully timed tackles. I think in the long run Chamsakul could play in the J-League or K-League.
Peeter Phanthavong (ST, ’06, Ezra FC)
Peeter Phanthavong played as a striker for Laos and looked surprisingly dangerous for a striker playing for Laos. Phanthavong’s main thing is moving into channels and getting in behind opposing defences. He is extremely quick and has smart off-the-ball movement. He also has a certain degree of skill, able to beat isolated defenders in transition situations. But there are quite a number of drawbacks as well. For one, Phanthavong is tiny. Wyscout credits him with a 0% aerial win rate during the tournament and I can’t think of any examples to dispute that stat. I don’t really see how he could operate as a lone striker at the senior level. His physicality is just too lacking. He has a reasonably good first touch but he is not going to do anything crazy on the ball. Still, though, he was a consistent danger on a team that was constantly outmatched. So I think there may be something there. Phathavong has already made a number of senior appearances having scored 7 goals and 2 assists in 1320 minutes in Laos. As far as I can tell, this is slightly above average for the Laotian league, not bad for a 17-year-old. So I think Phanthavong could at least make a step up to a slightly higher-ranked Asian league, maybe Vietnam or Singapore.
Gaku Nawata (AM/SS, ’06, Kamimura Gakuen HS)
Nawata was the tournament’s best prospect and revelation and is still not attached to a J-League club. He has a tiny frame with nice pace and an excellent base to turn and be agile with. Despite his size, Nawata had a terrific box presence for Japan to both create and score, coming away with 5 goals in 5 during the competition. He mainly played behind the lone forward as either a second striker or attacking midfielder. Nawata did well to come short in midfield and then ball carry to the final third dealing with pressure well while dribbling with sharp technique and quickness. His runs came from all over the front line and even got out to the wings at times. He timed them well and used his quickness to catch the defense out and land in the box, in a place to receive short and use his dribbling technique to either send a short low cross or a cutback in creation or just shoot with placement usually with his right. Nawata was also quick to pull the trigger from deep when shooting if afforded the space and really controlled play in midfield. His attacking presence and impressive athleticism for his size put himself above the other forwards in this tournament in terms of ability. Although he did make decisions too quickly at times, his mind was always on getting his team the best chance at finishing, from carrying in the middle third to finishing in the final third. Even on the press, he was highly effective, utilizing his pace and applying constant pressure although it led to some fouls from behind. Nawata will be an expensive export from J1 in just a few seasons if he keeps this trajectory.
Ryunosuke Sato (AM/RW, ’06, FC Tokyo)
Sato is another attacker for Japan with a small frame, playing both the right wing and inside as an attacking 8 or 10. From both positions he inverted himself in attack and found the spaces to create frequently, leading to 2 goals and 3 assists. Sato attacked using the right middle channel, receiving through to create using through balls on his dominant right or putting in crosses. Sato is somewhat two-footed and had decent ability using his left in short progressive passes. Using his through passing to break midfield lines he was able to take advantage of Japan’s counterattacking style to pick up assists and chances created. His passing range was wide and that allowed him to spread play from wing to wing. He even was able to drop deep to link play from the center-backs. As a dribbler he was not the most technical, but got the job done and rarely lost possession while progressively carrying. Sato advancing play with his carries in midfield was one of the crucial parts to Japan’s transition attacks. His defensive output was not the highest in comparison to his teammates, but in such a dominant side it did not take too much of an effect. FC Tokyo have a special attacking talent on their hands that should slot into their lineup sooner than later and be an excellent creative maestro in midfield, either wide or centrally.
Yutaka Michiwaki (CF, ’06, Roasso Kumamoto)
Michiwaki is a tall center forward with a thin frame who scored in all but one match he appeared in during this tournament, finishing with 4 goals. He took advantage of transition well, using his long strides to stretch the middle channel on his runs into the box. His support centrally provided a decent target for crosses and to be the final piece to linkup with. When approaching the box, Michiwaki stuck to his central positioning and timed short runs well inside to get under through balls. When finishing, he connected well with his head on shots (and goals) and utilized both feet well to shoot from inside the box and on the edge. He can shoot with both power and curve whether receiving in stride or creating for himself using his own dribble. Michiwaki also spread play well using his dominant right when distributing, especially in transition. His focus on the attack was spraying in a high volume of shots—timeliness in his runs and soft first touch then tight dribble allowed him the space to have those chances while displaying the technique to finish them, too. Michiwaki is a pure striker that performers the target man or finisher role naturally. Already getting minutes in the J2 League, he certainly has the potential to be a J1 starter and find his way to Europe.
Keita Kosugi (LB, ’06, Shonan Bellmare)
Kosugi was Japan’s captain at left-back with a very short but mature frame. He is a patient dribbler in the buildup that is accurate in most of his distribution. He mainly keeps it on the ground and was not much of a crossing threat in this tournament. His involvement in the buildup mainly came from the back, but not without progression. His ground passes to break lines with his dominant left foot were reliable in getting possession up the left flank or into midfield. Kosugi was also able to switch play with his passing on the ground and was quick in his decision-making as pressure came. His comfort on ball to carry patiently and progress and not rush distribution helped to draw defenders out of position and open passing lanes for him to utilize. Kosugi did support with overlapping runs on some attacks but mainly stayed back. When in possession for long periods he also would add in an inverted run at the box to be an extra option for the midfield line to pass to from the middle. When defending, he used his frame well to win in duels. Kosugi intercepted over the top often as direct balls went into the final third and that put him in many situations to use his shoulders to body wingers. Japan’s attack was often so dominant that it was important for his concentration to keep in those small moments, and there he was leading by example. His physical stand tackles on time to halt progression led to many counterattacks and he was even able to head away some direct passes to his area. Off ball, his marking was consistent and Kosugi did well to stick to his line and not get overly aggressive. He should be a prospect Shonan Bellmare considers in their first team in a year or two.
In-woo Back (CM, ’06, Yongin Doekyoung)
Back stands at an average height with a slim build, usually playing a box-to-box role in midfield or being a bit more attack-minded. He completed the tournament with 3 goals and 2 assists, an impressive output from midfield. Back displayed a high work rate running the middle channel and crashing toward the box. This constant running never really slowed up throughout the tournament, embodying high stamina to start every match and only miss an hour of play all in the group stage for some rest after securing a spot in the knockouts. On his runs at the box, Back liked to occupy the half space at the edge after underlapping using the right middle channel. From there he received short to create space for himself on the dribble then create with a short through pass into the box or shoot from distance. His finishing using his dominant right from outside the box was with terrific technique and even led to a low goal from a set piece. Back was the primary set piece taker and did well in his accuracy from corners and on crosses. His creation from short areas after escaping pressure using his technical dribbling was made with pinpoint accuracy, especially when sending runners into the box. He also did well to pass up the right flank when receiving short in the buildup. Back was also able to carry progressively quite confidently and dealt with the pressure in midfield well. When defending in midfield, he mainly applied pressure to ball progressors from behind and got a bit overaggressive at times when attempting stand tackles. His fouls are something he needs to get better at controlling but the effort when pressing through the middle third was of great use for South Korea’s formation. Overall, Back is a promising attack-minded 8 that should get his move to a K-League soon enough.
Do-young Yun (RW, ’06, Dejeon Hana Citizen)
Yun is an inverted right winger that is short with a lean build and explosive borderline elite pace. He goes into each match with high effort up and down the right flank while pressing high and offering cover on the wing in defense. His pace really frustrates in the buildup, and it is a real tactical tool for his manager, not just on the attack. When attacking, he was able to mix in both overlapping wide runs and underlapping when playing more as an inside forward. From the wide positions he could receive through in support but also liked to call for the pass short so he could cut inside using the blazing pace to beat his marker then distribute laterally or at the box with his dominant left foot. When receiving in stride on underlapping runs into the box, he attacked the goal with his pace and beat his markers with ease after already catching them off their line. From there, he was able to finish with either foot, preferring to shoot near post using his right or bending it with his left. This led to 4 goals from him in this tournament, although he was held quiet after the quarter-final, but not for a lack of trying. Yun could also shoot from distance with placement using his left, but his finishing presence was much better in the box. The young winger’s raw pace and high effort along with finishing volume make him a talent to look out for in the coming K-League seasons.
Mukhammad-Bobur Karimov (RB, ’06, Pakhtakor Tashkent)
Karimov is a bit tall for a full-back with an average build. He showed excellent recovery pace in this tournament that also showed up when supporting the attack with overlapping runs up the right flank. Additionally, he was strong for his age which was displayed in shoulder-to-shoulder duels and when using his frame to box out on loose balls and against boundaries. When in 1v1s going down his flank, he mostly stayed conservative when engaging but would stay stride for stride with his marker to eventually time a tackle correctly to switch possession. His patience in defensive 1v1s made sure that he did not lunge past the attacker taking him on and his recovery pace continued to impress. Karimov’s marking off ball, especially when the attack tried to enter on his wing, did not allow much access at all. When in his own third, he was able to shut down passing lanes in his area well, taking angles away. On the attack, Karimov mainly supported with overlapping runs and by staying wide in the buildup, mainly to receive back passes from the wings to reset the buildup. Due to the direct nature of the buildup using the central defenders, Karimov was able to stand out when used in an inverted role at times in the tournament. Here, he was able to display his progressive carrying ability dealing with pressure at an average level. He was able to spot the next forward pass with his dominant right from there, but sometimes looked rushed when attempting. Karimov was at his best in the buildup when playing passes conservatively, although there is some potential in his ball carrying if he continues to refine it. He may not be impressive enough yet to break into the Pakhator Tashkent first team right now but is well on his way.
Ozod Uktamov (CB, ’06, Navbahor Namangan)
Uktamov was able to play both sides of defense with equal ability in this tournament with his lanky build and average height for a center-back. Aerially, he was consistent in winning headers, both intercepting crosses/long balls and going up for duels in the box or midfield, doing well to clear his lines long. In transition, he tracked back quickly to get set in his box and be ready for the attack, while showing attentive marking to not get caught out. His challenges when stepping up were on time and usually from a standing possession, utilizing some physicality. Uktamov’s defense was largely mistake free despite his tendency to step up to meat attackers for defensive actions. When building up, he was comfortable passing laterally and backward with both feet, part of why he was flexible to play both center-back positions in the back four. Additionally, his passing range from the back was wide and impressive. His vision to find through passes over the top using his right or chipping into midfield to break lines was a key to the Uzbekistan buildup. Uktamov spread play on the ground well with his right, too, finding the open man to progress up the flank when those direct passes to the front line were unavailable after patient scanning. Uktamov’s technique and comfort on ball is a lot better than most other right footed center-backs in the age group. He was not much of a dribbler, but the combination of patience and range made him a big threat to break lines in the buildup. As a ball-playing defender, the Uzbekistan center-back has huge potential given his patience under pressure and defensive solidity. Expect him to be in his senior club’s starting XI soon if Uktamov can continue this form.
Azizbek Tulkunbekov (DM, ’06, Bunyodkor Tashkent)
Tulkunbekov is of average height with a broad frame as a typical deep-lying 6. He also can drop back and play some center-back if need be. In the buildup, he is excellent at finding space between midfielders to receive short and link play. There are stretches where he did not get touches from that position, but it was mainly due to the tactics employed. Uzbekistan went for long balls from the back and that simply is not how Tulkunbekov spreads play. He likes to break lines using righty ground passes and occasionally chipping passes, but not at the required range that the squad’s center-backs went for. When he did receive short in the buildup, his decisions were very quick and often back passes to retain possession, as he felt pressure at his back frequently. When defending, he did well to stick to his midfield line to protect possession entry to his back line. He was active in putting in challenges especially in transition to attempt to poke away the ball. Tulkunbekov did mistime challenges at times, so his recovery pace being good enough to get him back into position was key. He may not have been the best or most active player for his national team in this tournament, but he did his job and stuck to his tactical instructions, displaying great discipline and coachability alongside his desirable skillset as a defensive midfielder.
Korou Singh (RW, ’06, Sudeva Delhi FC)
Singh is short with an athletic build on the right wing, playing both wide and as an inside forward. He was India’s captain in this tournament and played with high pace and relentless work rate up and down the wing. Singh led by example and from the front as the squad’s main box threat. As a presser, his work rate really came into play as he really applied himself. When making runs inside, he timed them well to receive on his dominant right foot and shoot in volume. As a finisher, he looked to shoot low and found himself finishing first time on target, too. With better service, his finishing total of one goal could have been higher, as his runs through in attack displayed tactical intelligence to find space potentially in stride into the box at the right time. When making runs wide, Singh did well to beat his marker with pace on the dribble in take ons to create space for himself. He did not get too involved in distribution due to India’s counterattacking style and his knack for using his abilities off ball. Singh has the potential to become one of the better wingers in India and hopefully become amongst the first to earn a move abroad during the 2020s.
Malemngamba Singh Thokchom (LB, ’07, SAI Utlou)
Thokchom was amongst the younger players in this tournament at 15. Despite that, he was amongst the taller, too, with a lean athletic build that added long strides for him to cover ground down the wing quickly. His activity in the buildup was limited but showed some promise in tight areas when making decisions with his dominant left foot under pressure. Thokchom’s overlapping support runs stretched the flank due to his pacy long strides and created a dynamic the opposition defense could not ignore despite his limited technical ability approaching the final third. The real highlight of his game was his front-footedness as a defender, though. When being attacked in take ons, his fundamentals when stepping forward in 1v1s led to frequent halts of attacks using timely tackle, mostly standing but mixing in sliding, as well. His timely actions in 1v1s and ability to intercept long balls into the box consistently meant that the opposition would stop attacking his wing for long stretches after the first half. In addition, his marking off ball was tight, not allowing much room to work with even if the attack decided to go his way. Thokchom’s aggression in duels did come back to bite him when pressing near midfield as it did see him get caught out in transition at times. My solution for Thokchom’s profile (although he is young with more time to grow than nearly any prospect here): switch to left-sided center-back.
Nima Andarz (RB, ’06, KIA)
Andarz is a short and stocky built right-back with decent pace up and down the right flank. He was one of the better players in all phases of play for Iran. He stretched the right wing with his overlapping runs, receiving in stride to create when entering the final third. His ability to use pace and/or skill to beat his marker and make space for himself was terrific for his age and position while his dynamism to crash the box in transition led to a goal for him. Defensively, Andarz was no slouch either. Although he could get beat with pace at times, his technique and timing in his actions were admirable. His tackling was timed well and won challenges cleanly especially when sliding. When marking, he was rarely caught off his line and defended his back post well off ball. Expect Andarz to break into a first team domestically soon as his group of traits is the perfect combination for a modern full-back.