| Fadhil Yunus |
BRUNEI Darussalam’s national under-23 football team have been drawn in Group ‘K’ in the East Zone of the 2020 Asian Football Confederations (AFC) Under-23 qualifiers in Thailand to be held in March 2019, at a ceremony at the AFC House in Kuala Lumpur recently.
The group features an all-ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) ensemble namely Thailand, who qualified automatically to the 2020 finals as hosts, 2018 finalists Vietnam and Indonesia.
Brunei will begin their campaign against hosts Vietnam on March 22 next year before facing Thailand on March 24 and Indonesia on March 26.
Vietnam finished as runners-up in the previous edition in 2018 in China after only losing the final hurdle 2-1 against Uzbekistan, who clinched their maiden title.
The Wasps finished fourth in Group ‘F’ during the previous edition of qualifying at the Thuwunna Stadium in Yangon, Myanmar last year after recording three losses.
The AFC Under-23 qualifying draw saw 44 teams split into two zones namely West Zone with 24 teams and East Zone with 20 teams.
Divided into six groups of four teams, West Zone features teams from West Asia, Central Asia and South Asia while the east zone which is split into five groups of four teams includes teams from East Asia and ASEAN.
During the draw, each participating country was allocated a pot number based on its overall classification during the previous finals, for instance Uzbekistan as winners were seeded first.
Having not qualified in the 2018 finals, Brunei Darussalam are among the least ranked in pot number 4 alongside Mongolia, the Philippines, Chinese Taipei and Macau.
Teams from the same pot will not meet but they will instead find themselves drawn alongside one of the countries from Pot 1, 2 and 3.
Each team will fight for one of the 15 qualifying spots available including all group winners and the four best second-place ranked teams.
In the event that Thailand, who joined the qualifying stage despite already cementing a berth as hosts, finish among the qualified teams, then the fifth best second-place team will earn a ticket to the 2020 finals.
The group matches also serve as the first stage of the AFC qualifiers for the 2020 Summer Olympic Games men’s football tournament in Japan. The top three teams of the AFC Under-23 Championship will qualify to the 2020 Summer Olympics.
AFC Head of National Team Competitions Department Avazbek Berdikulov conducted the draw.