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Iran the benchmark for AFC futsal championship 2018 hopefuls

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Tabriz: The Islamic Republic of Iran is the setting as the countdown starts for the AFC Futsal Championship 2018 with the South and Central Zone Qualifiers which kicks off on Sunday.

The South and Central zones have been merged into one qualification zone as Nepal are the only representatives from the South, bringing the total to seven teams competing for four spots in the Finals in Chinese Taipei next year.

Uzbekistan, runners-up in the previous edition, are one of the favourites to qualify.

The White Wolves had an impressive run at the 2016 tournament, topping Group A to progress into the quarter-finals where they beat Iraq 3-0, before a 3-1 penalty shootout win in the semi-finals against Thailand secured them a place in the final against Iran.

In the recent 2017 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, history repeated itself with Iran beating Uzbekistan to claim the title.

Uzbekistan will face Kyrgyz Republic, Turkmenistan and Nepal in Group A of the qualifiers.


Uzbekistan faced Kyrgyz Republic in the AFC Futsal Championship 2016.

Kyrgyz Republic finished sixth in the AFC Futsal Championship 2016, and an early elimination from the 2017 Asian Indoor Games leaves the Snow Leopards with much ground to cover.

However, they have not missed a single Finals since the tournament’s inception in 1999, and can be expected to provide stiff opposition.

After two failed attempts to qualify for the Finals, Turkmenistan are ready to make a difference.

Despite losing out to Afghanistan on penalties in the quarter-finals in 2016, hosting the 2017 Asian Indoor Games has helped the team improve significantly.

Having played more competitive matches, the Turkeminstan side will be aiming to outdo their previous performances.

The South zone’s sole representative Nepal will make their AFC Futsal Championship debut against Asia’s best, but in a top flight tournament, surprises cannot be ruled out.

In the three-team Group B, Iran are the ones to beat and the odds are surely against Tajikistan and Afghanistan.

The futsal powerhouse hold the record of 11 championship titles, and the team have enjoyed much success in recent years.

After winning the 2016 AFC Futsal Championship, the Iranians finished third in the FIFA Futsal World Cup Colombia 2016, before claiming their fifth Asian Indoor Games gold medal.

Dangerman Ali Asghar Hassanzadeh (pictured below), who was named the Most Valuable Player after assisting Iran beat Uzbekistan in the final, will definitely play a huge role in this qualifier.

Tajikistan’s closest attempt at the title was their 2007 campaign where they reached the quarter-finals but were halted by Uzbekistan.

They have struggled to make the cut into the knockout phase ever since, despite consecutive qualifications.

Afghanistan turned heads in the 2017 Asian Indoor Games when they defeated Uzbekistan 4-2 to claim top spot in their group to progress to the quarter-finals, but losses to eventual champions Iran in the semis and Japan in the third place play-off secured them fourth place.

A result worth highlighting, as the Lions of Khorasan have yet to make an appearance in the AFC Futsal Championship Finals stage.

Matches

October 15

Group A
Uzbekistan v Nepal

Venue: Pour Sharifi Futsal Hall, Tabriz
Kick-off: 1400

Kyrgyz Republic v Turkmenistan
Venue: Pour Sharifi Futsal Hall, Tabriz
Kick-off: 1630

Group B
Afghanistan v Iran

Venue: Pour Sharifi Futsal Hall, Tabriz
Kick-off: 1900

October 16

Group A
Nepal v Kyrgyz Republic

Venue: Pour Sharifi Futsal Hall, Tabriz
Kick-off: 1400

Turkmenistan v Uzbekistan
Venue: Pour Sharifi Futsal Hall, Tabriz
Kick-off: 1630

Group B
Tajikistan v Afghanistan

Venue: Pour Sharifi Futsal Hall, Tabriz
Kick-off: 1900

October 17

Group A
Uzbekistan v Kyrgyz Republic

Venue: Pour Sharifi Futsal Hall, Tabriz
Kick-off: 1400

Turkmenistan v Nepal
Venue: Pour Sharifi Futsal Hall, Tabriz
Kick-off: 1630

Group B
Iran v Tajikistan

Venue: Pour Sharifi Futsal Hall, Tabriz
Kick-off: 1900

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