Asian elite eye world stage
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The 2011 AFC U-16 Women’s Championship kicks off in Nanjing, China PR next Thursday, with the continent’s six top teams vying for the right to join hosts Azerbaijan at next September’s FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup. This year’s format will feature a round-robin format played out over the ten-day campaign, with the top three to represent Asia at the global showpiece.

Taking into account Asia's dominance in the past two FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cups, the continental competition is set to be of a high standard. Boosted by their tremendous success at Trinidad and Tobago 2010, reigning world champions Korea Republic and losing finalists Japan enter the qualifying seeking to ensure a global encore. Korea DPR, meanwhile, can take heart from, not only their semi-finals performance last year, but also their triumphant run in the inaugural tournament at New Zealand 2008.

Hosts eye breakthrough
While the strongly favoured trio are likely to continue their dominance this time around, both China and Australia enter the competition determined to mount a serious challenge for one of the three qualifying spots. The hosts have firmly fixed their sights on a place at their first-ever FIFA U17 Women’s World Cup, having spent the past year preparing for the competition.

The man in charge of the Steel Rosebuds is Fan Xuewei, a former Shandong Luneng midfielder who took over last November. In order to fulfill their qualifying mission, the 40-year-old and his managerial staff have left no stone unturned in the build-up as they seek to mould their young group into a competitive side.

“The team was formed a year ago when we made 27 selections out of over 270 players who participated in last November’s National U-16 Women’s Championship,” Fan told FIFA.com. “We have focused on not only the technical side, but also fitness, as the tournament fixtures are tight with five games in ten days.”

To gain the necessary international experience, the Chinese played a series of international friendlies, including four warms-up against Korea DPR. Despite losing twice, Fan’s charges managed a draw and a win, results which have left him in optimistic mood.

“In our first training match with the Koreans we went 3-0 up only to concede three late goals to draw 3-3, but we defeated them 1-0 in the third meeting,” said Fan. “The victory is a massive boost for our side given Korea DPR are former champions.”

China finished third in last month’s AFC U-19 Women’s Championship to secure their return to the FIFA U-20 World Cup and, inspired by the side’s success, Fan stated there will be no excuse if they fail to follow suit. “There is no doubt that our rivals are world-class teams but at this age level anything can happen,” he said. “We have prepared for the tournament thoroughly and we can expect immense home support. We should show our best and make these advantages count.”