Five maintain London dream

The long journey to the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament London 2012 has commenced in Asia, with the first round of qualifiers completed. Five nations have secured passage to the second round, with Iran, Jordan, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Thailand keeping their London 2012 dream alive.

The latter two topped Group A, which concluded yesterday, having been hosted by former Asian champions Chinese Taipei, with Hong Kong and Myanmar also participating. Vietnam finished with ten points following their 1-1 draw with Chinese Taipei in the last game, while Thailand were left a point adrift despite overpowering Hong Kong 4-0 in their final match. Top spot was ultimately decided in the penultimate round on Friday as Vietnam edged south-east Asian rivals Thailand 2-1, with goals from Nguyen Thi Hoa and Le Thu Thanh Huong after Chidtawan Chawong has given the Thais the lead in the first minute.

London dreaming
Though there are potentially two more rounds of qualifying to come, Uzbekistan have already taken the hard road, having finished top of their group alongside India. However, a 1-1 draw between the pair in the final group match, combined with an identical goal difference and head-to-head record, necessitated an early morning play-off the following day.

Both teams had secured 3-0 victories over Bangladesh, who were unable to capitalise on playing in their capital, Dhaka. Despite going a goal up in the play-off through Bem Bem Devi, India seemed to suffer under the physical demands of back-to-matches more than the central Asians, who ran out 5-1 victors with Elena Lagutkina hitting a double.

In Jordan’s Zerqa City, Iran topped Group C ahead of the hosts, with both nations progressing at the expense of Bahrain and Palestine. All four teams were in the hunt until the third and final matchday only for Iran to down Bahrain 2-0 to top the section with seven points, while Jordan overwhelmed Palestine 6-0. Maryam Rahimi scored a brace for Iran, while Farah Al Azab and Maysa Jbarah netted two each for the hosts, with their most well-known player, Stephanie Al Naber, also on the scoresheet.

The five teams progressing from the first stage will participate in a one-round league format to be held in June. The winner of the second round will join the five seeded teams - Japan, China, Korea DPR, Korea Republic and Australia – in the third and final stage of qualifying. The final stage will be held in China during September, with the two top teams going on to represent Asia at London 2012.