Thursday 05 April 2018, 02:31

Asian octet line-up chasing passage to France

  • AFC Asian Women’s Cup commences in Jordan on Friday

  • Tournament doubles as Women’s World Cup qualifiers

  • Australia and Japan headline the race for France 2019

In a little over a week the first teams to qualify for the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019™ will be confirmed when the AFC Women’s Asian Cup takes place in Jordan. A fifth side will earn a ticket in a winner-takes-all play-off on 16 April, before the continental champion is crowned four days later.

Four of the world’s top 20 on the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women’s World Ranking – Australia, Japan, Korea Republic and China PR – headline the favourites for the two-week competition. Such is the strength of women’s football in Asia, four-time Women’s World Cup participants Korea DPR failed to qualify.

Thailand, Vietnam, Jordan and Philippines all reached the continental competition after storming through their respective preliminary groups. Of the quartet, only Thailand have previously featured on the world stage.

Group A: Jordan, China PR, Thailand, Philippines Group B: Japan, Australia, Korea Republic, Vietnam

Group A

Jordan (FIFA Ranking 51) The home side are well placed to become the first west Asian side to win qualification for a women’s FIFA tournament, and they will never have a better opportunity. Home support could be enough to push them over the line following an impressive debut at this stage four years ago. The tournament also offers an opportunity to maintain momentum from the 2016 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in Jordan.

Star Player – Hailing from a strong football family, captain Stephanie Al-Naber is the undoubted headline name for local fans, with the midfielder boasting European club experience.

China PR (17) The 1999 Women’s World Cup Finalists appear to be slowly getting back on track following a tumultuous period, which included failing to qualify for the 2011 world finals. A kind draw makes a repeat of that unlikely. The team enjoyed a solid showing at the recent Algarve Cup under new Icelandic coach Sigurdur Eyjolfsson.

Star Player – Wang Shanshan netted two of China’s four goals at Canada 2015, and always offers a lively presence in a mobile forward line.

Thailand (30) Regulars at the continental showpiece, Thailand earned a historic maiden qualification for the last Women’s World Cup. Korea DPR’s absence means they have a rare opportunity to reprise that success.

Star Player – Experienced No9 Orathai Srimanee is the team’s go-to player after achieving headlines for her match-winning double in Thailand’s lone win at Canada 2015. Invariably the spotlight also falls on fellow attacker Taneekarn Dangda, whose older brother is men’s national team goalscoring icon Teerasil Dangda.

Philippines (72) The southeast Asians are in their first continental finals for 15 years, after missing out by the slimmest of margins four years ago. The side have enjoyed a significant amount of time in camp over recent months, but it remains to be seen if an 11th-hour change of coach proves to work to their advantage.

Star Player – Among a host of players with American heritage is midfielder Marisa Park who has enjoyed stints in USA’s second tier W-League and in Norway.

Group B

Australia (FIFA Ranking – 6) Australia head to Jordan seeking to reclaim the Asian crown after their breakthrough win in 2010. The Matildas have gone up another level under coach Alen Stajcic since Canada 2015, highlighted by a national record eight-match winning streak. The only negative is a host of injuries, headlined by the absence of former Asian Player of the Year Caitlin Foord.

Star Player – All-action forward Sam Kerr has enjoyed an extraordinary year that has included being named the NWSL’s best player, plus scoring numerous spectacular goals for club and country.

Japan (11) It is a largely changed Japan team from previous years with a host of familiar names now off the scene. Their technical ball-playing style, however, remains unchanged under Asano Takakura in what is her first senior World Cup campaign after massive success at youth international level.

Star Player – Offering a guiding hand among the young brigade is captain Saki Kumagai. Famous for scoring the World Cup winning penalty in 2011, Kumagai has now spent five years at all-conquering European champions Lyon.

Korea Republic (16) The east Asians seem to have found their rhythm again after qualification for Canada 2015 ended a 12-year absence from world football’s main stage. Many of the team’s key personnel have launched their international careers at FIFA youth tournaments.

Star Player – Boasting a stunning international goalscoring record, attacking outlet Ji Soyun is the undoubted star attraction following several strong seasons with Chelsea.

Vietnam (35) The draw has done Vietnam few favours after missing Canada 2015 in a heartbreaking home play-off defeat against Thailand. The nation’s football has been on a significant upward surge of late, but Vietnam will need to record at least one upset to maintain that momentum.

Star Player – A veteran of four continental championships, goalkeeper and captain Dang Thi Kieu Trinh will be an important figure for Vietnam.