- Asian qualifier for France 2018 kicks off on 15 October
- Reigning world champions Korea DPR among those aiming to qualify
- Hosts China aim to seal global return
With women's football the strongest footballing suit in Asia, all eyes from across the world's biggest and most populous continent will be on the 2017 AFC U-19 Women's Championship which kicks off on Sunday in Nanjing, China PR. The Asian showpiece also serves as the qualifier to next year's FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup France and needless to say, the competition for the rights of representing Asia at the global campaign will be ferocious.
Featuring in the qualifying are eight of Asia's top teams, who will battle against each other for the three berths at France 2018. These teams are divided into two groups of four with the top two finishers advancing to the semi-final stage. The two semi-final winners will seal their places in the final and thus the World Cup. The two losing semi-finalists will, meanwhile, be left to compete for the remaining slot through the third-place play-off.
Two-time world champions Korea DPR are grouped alongside hosts China, Thailand and Uzbekistan. Holders Japan, for their part, are pitted against Korea Republic, Australia and Vietnam in what is anticipated to be a tougher group.
Having clinched their second global title at the last year’s FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup in Papua New Guinea, Korea DPR enter Asia's qualifier for France 2018 with their sights firmly fixed on more than just earning a place at the FIFA tournament's next edition. They have, indeed, reached the tournament final on four occasions during which they prevailed just once - in 2007. Their ambitions will, undoubtedly, be to recapture the Asian title after a decade.
Of course, they must keep wary of Japan, arguably the tournament's most successful team. Korea Republic are another side more than capable of mounting a serious challenge for the championship, considering that they prevailed against their northern peninsula neighbours in the 2013 final. Hosts China, under Dutch coach Hesterine de Reus, will spare nothing to seal their return to the global finals, having missed out on a place at Papua New Guinea 2016.
The same can be said of Australia, who seek to return to the world stage for the first time since 2006. Even Thailand are a side no team should underestimate given the fast progress they have made over recent years, while the enigmatic Uzbekistan are eyeing breakthrough qualification.
Players to watch
Korea DPR will look to their top-striker Ri Haeyon as they aim to open brightly against Thailand. Bossing the midfielder for Japan are a pair of talented hopefuls in Fuka Nagano and Honaka Hayashi, both of whom hail from Urawa Red Diamonds. Having finished the qualification to the Asian championship as the top-scorer with ten goals, Remy Siemsen's goal-scoring form will be key if Australia are to go through. Featuring for China are the nucleus of the squad that won gold at the Girls' Football Tournament at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games Nanjing, with forward Zhao Yujie and winger Jin Kun the most notable.
4 – The quartet of Japan, Korea DPR, Korea Republic and China have appeared in each of the past eight editions. Japan have proved to be the tournament's most successful team as four-time champions. Korea Republic have, meanwhile, lifted the trophy twice while China and Korea DPR have each won one continental title apiece.
Did you know?
While all eight contestants are no strangers on the Asian scene, Uzbekistan and Vietnam have never qualified for the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup.