The Blue Colts are placed in Group E alongside Oman, UAE and Kyrgyzstan.

The Indian U-23 side embarks on their AFC U-23 Asian Cup Qualifiers campaign from Sunday, October 24. The Blue Tigers have never qualified for the youth tournament in their history, faltering in the qualifications stages on all four past occasions.

Things aren’t going to be easy this time around either. They are in a challenging group against nations who are all ranked above India in the FIFA Rankings. The UAE boast a commendable U-23 side that has impressed in recent AFC U-23 Asian Cup editions.

Oman U-23s and Kyrgyzstan U-23s have plenty of exciting young talents well capable of winning games for them. While the Indian team have to be wary of the entire teams of opposition sides, there are particular players who have to be kept under close watch. Here are the top five players to watch from India’s rivals:

5. Jasim Al Noobi (Oman)

Oman’s young midfielder Jasim Al Noobi has found some attention from manager Dario Basic and even featured in the 2021 WAFF U-23 Championship. Al Noobi has emerged as a hard-working midfielder, who is ready to cover a lot of spaces for his team.

He is a really smart midfielder with admirable passing ability and has a tendency to create occasional goalscoring chances. Oman U-23s have to dominate games in midfield if they want to cause upsets. Al Noobi will play a key role for that to happen, as he must remain a proactive figure in middle to help his side win games.

4. Abdulla Anwar (UAE)

Abdulla Anwar
The 22-year-old will be a key play for hosts UAE (Courtesy: @strivingwolf/Instagram)

Abdulla Anwar is a highly-regarded young prospect in the UAE football scene and recently joined top UAE Pro League side Al-Nasr. He’s made four appearances for them so far this season, mostly from the bench. Anwar has scored one goal and is a clinical prospect for the UAE U-23 team in the upcoming qualifiers.

The 22-year-old is a menacing figure in the final third, knowing how to get into the right positions to sniff out goals. Anwar’s impressive movement, link-up play and finishing prowess can help him torment oppositions in the qualifiers.

3. Maksat Alygulov (Kyrgyzstan)

Kyrgyzstan U-23s’ special weapon in the qualifiers will be their striker Maksat Alygulov, who has been in splendid form over the last year or so. The 21-year-old has had a breakout campaign for Kyrgyzstan’s top tier side FK Abdysh-Ata Kant last season. In 25 appearances, he scored 16 goals and provided seven assists. This season the 20-year-old has already scored once in two cup appearances so far.

Alygulov is a menacing forward, with his excellent dribbling ability helping him torment defenders. He’s also a smart finisher and knows when to make the perfect runs to get among the goals. If he’s able to bring his club form to the international stage, Kyrgyzstan’s U-23 side can pop up with a few surprises.

2. Yousuf Al Malki (Oman)

Despite only being 21, Yousuf Al Malki has already garnered quite a lot of experience on the international stage. The Oman defender has played in the AFC U-16 Championships, AFC U-19 Championship Qualifiers as well as the AFC U-23 Asian Cup Qualifiers in the past.

The sharp defender will be tasked to be one of Oman U-23s’ leaders in the upcoming qualifiers. He’ll aim to make good use of his experience to nullify opposition forwards. Al Malki possesses admirable pace and game-reading ability which can help Oman U-23s maintain a decent defensive record in the qualifiers.

1. Ali Saleh (UAE)

AFC U-23 Asian Cup Qualifiers
Ali Saleh is already a key player for club Al-Wasl (Courtesy: @alisaleh.7/Instagram)

Better known as ‘UAE’s Golden Boy,’ Ali Saleh remains one of the fastest-rising young talents to come out from the country. The centre-forward has had an admirable youth career, having had a trial at Manchester United many years ago.

He came up from Al-Wasl’s academy and made his senior debut for them at the age of 16. In 88 appearances for them, Saleh has scored 11 goals so far. An instinctive striker, the 21-year-old loves to move into key goalscoring areas around the final third and finish chances emphatically. The striker will have to be prolific to help his side dominate the qualifiers and move ahead without any hiccups.

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