Tabriz: Islamic Republic of Iran will be on a mission to defend their title when they host the second edition of the AFC U-20 Futsal Championship which kicks off on Friday.
Hoping to stop IR Iran will be 11 teams who made the Finals after a gruelling qualifying campaign that showcased the best of Asian futsal.
It will take a supreme effort to stop IR Iran though as futsal is hugely popular in the Central Asian nation and the senior team are ranked third in the world.
The 12 teams are drawn into four groups with IR Iran in Group A with Afghanistan, who they defeated in qualifying 4-2.
Hong Kong, who replaced Saudi Arabia after the West Asians withdrew, complete the group.
Lebanon were a team in form in the Qualifiers, advancing with a perfect record and 15 goals scored but they will have to contend with Central Zone qualifying Group B winners Kyrgyz Republic and Thailand, the dominant team in Southeast Asian futsal, in Group B.
Japan are the early favourites to seal one of the two quarter-final slots from Group C. Just like IR Iran, futsal is hugely popular in Japan and their national and club teams are always at the forefront in regional competitions.
Japan, however, can expect to be tested as they face Vietnam, who the East Asians defeated 3-1 in the 2017 edition group stage.
Tajikistan, despite losing to Afghanistan in the Central Zone play-off, squeezed into the Finals as IR Iran had already made it through as hosts and will be aiming to make the most of the experience.
Iraq, runners-up in 2017, will be aiming to go one better this time around and will be confident of advancing from Group D despite having Indonesia and Chinese Taipei to contend with.
Chinese Taipei were impressive in qualifying, eliminating Mongolia and China PR while Indonesia fought off strong regional rivals to claim the third ASEAN spot in the Finals.
All the matches will be played at the Pour Sharifi Indoor Stadium in Tabriz, and livestream via the AFC’s YouTube channel will be available. Log on to the AFC’s social media platforms to stay up-to-date.