Having sealed their berths at the Olympic Football Tournament Beijing 2008 in last week's penultimate round of matches, Korea DPR and Japan rounded off their impressive qualifying campaigns in fine style on Sunday with respective victories over Hong Kong and Thailand.
Japan's 5-0 over Thailand was as routine as it was convincing, but it was Korea DPR who really caught the eye, pulling off the biggest win of the tournament so far by firing 19 unanswered goals past Hong Kong. In front of a vociferous home crowd at the Kim Il Sung Stadium in Pyongyang, the hosts put the visiting team mercilessly to the sword in a match they dominated from start to finish.
Having failed to scrape through the qualifying competition for Athens 2004, the North Koreans made no mistake this time around with an unblemished preliminary record that included back-to-back 2-0 wins against the powerful Australians. Furthermore, their tally of 51 goals created a new record for this tournament, while their defence also excelled, as Korea DPR became the only team to emerge from qualifying without having conceded a single goal.
The continental competition for women's football in Asia used to be dominated by a pair of traditional adversaries, with China and Korea DPR towering above their Asian rivals. However, having already been joined by the ever-progressive Japan and Korea Republic over recent years, Asia's traditional order has been further upset by the arrival of Australia.
After all, it was the newest member of Asian Football Association, under coach Tom Sermanni, who swept past Japan and Korea Republic en route to the AFC Women's Championship final, where they only lost to the Chinese after a penalty shootout.
However, despite going into the final qualifying round for Beijing 2008 as one of the favorites, the Matildas had the misfortune of being pitted against the formidable Korea DPR. It left Sermanni's team facing the challenge of winning the crucial head-to-head matches to advance, and despite winning their other four games, two 2-0 defeats at the hands of the Northeast Asians cost the Australians dearly.
Yet while that left their last match meaningless in terms of qualification, Sermanni's side showed their professionalism at the BCU International Stadium at Coffs Harbour, running out 7-0 winners over Chinese Taipei.
"Ultimately it was a good workout and I was quite satisfied by the way we played," said the Scottish coach, whose team kick off their FIFA Women's World Cup campaign against Ghana in a month's time. "The game provided us with a very good opportunity ahead of the World Cup next month to look further at our structure and our personnel."
Southeast Asians on the rise
With Australia drawing inspiration from their progress, Thailand and Vietnam can also look to a bright future if recent development in their women's teams is anything to go by.
The Thais proved particularly impressive as they pulled off a couple of surprises in their pool, defeating 2003 FIFA Women's World Cup participants Korea Republic 1-0 in the opening match before holding them to a 1-1 draw in the return meeting. Despite losing out in both matches to Japan, they finished third in their group, trailing behind the South Koreans by just a solitary point.