Passage to India up for grabs in Asia
Eight top Asian teams compete for two tickets to India 2021
Both Japan and Korea DPR aim to win the title for a record fourth time
Legendary Sun Wen is China PR's general manager
The FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup will return to Asia in 2021 as India look forward to being hosts from 17 February to 7 March 2021. And with the global showpiece kicking off in a year's time, the continent's top teams will now embark on a qualifying campaign that commences on Sunday.
The AFC U-16 Women's Championship Thailand 2019, which acts as the qualifying competition for India 2021, will run from 15 to 28 September. Featuring eight teams, including three former World Cup winners in Korea DPR, Japan and Korea Republic, the competition looks set to capture the imagination across Asia and beyond.
With India granted automatic qualification as hosts, the eight teams will battle it out for two qualifying spots, meaning that only the finalists will secure a place the U-17 Women's World Cup.
AFC U-16 Women's Championship Thailand 2019
Group A: Thailand, Japan, Australia, Bangladesh Group B: Korea DPR, Korea Republic, China PR, Vietnam
Having each won the Asian title on three occasions, Korea DPR and Japan both enter this tournament aiming to, not only book a spot at next year's U-17 Women's World Cup, but to lift the trophy for a record fourth time. Posing the biggest challenge to them are, of course, 2010 world champions Korea Republic, who arrive in Thailand keen on recapturing the continental laurels.
Under coach In Changsu, the team head in to their opening match against China PR well prepared. They will look to captain Kim Minji to provide them with leadership and experience. The 16-year-old was a member of the Korea Republic squad at the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup Uruguay 2018, and having received that international baptism of fire, she has her sights fixed firmly at Asian success.
"Our goals are nothing but to win the Asian title," she told local press recently. "Our group rivals include Korea DPR and China, both of which are very strong. But everything is possible if we play well."
Harbouring similar hopes are China, whose head coach Chan Yuen-ting enters the competition seeking to take her side to their maiden continental title. "It is a fact that all these teams are close to each other in class," said the former Eastern manager. "But since we have to make it to the final [in order to seal World Cup qualification], then why don't we set our target for being to win the championship?"
Elsewhere, having staged the Asian finals twice in 2005 and 2017, hosts Thailand will be hoping it will be a third time lucky. Of course, they will look to their strong home support to book their first World Cup qualification this time around.
Also keen to make a breakthrough are Australia and Vietnam, both of whom can take heart from their progress made over recent years. Bangladesh, meanwhile, enter their second Asian finals expecting to spring a surprise.