Asia has long been a massive force in women’s football. China PR welcomed the world to the maiden FIFA Women’s World Cup™ in 1991, having hosted a prototype version of the tournament three years earlier. More recently Japan famously won the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup in a breakthrough moment for women’s football both in Asia and on a larger scale.
This year in Canada, Japan again reached the Final, while Asia had three teams in the quarter-final line-up. The success has been even greater at youth level with Asia winning three of four FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cups, and also enjoying consistently strong showings at the U-20 equivalent.
Typically though Asia’s powerbase has been in the eastern quarter of the continent where China, Japan, Korea DPR and Korea Republic are – along with Australia – constantly enjoying success against the world’s best. That region has a rich history, which initially saw Chinese Taipei and Hong Kong compete at a high level at continental level.
Now the challenge is to broaden the overall quality of the world’s most populace and culturally diverse continent. “Asian women’s football teams are already competing for the top spots globally,” AFC General Secretary Dato’ Windsor John recently said. “In addition to making sure that development continues we also need to focus on bridging the gaps between our Member Associations.”
The AFC held a workshop last month in Wuhan, China, in conjunction with the AFC Women's U-16 Championship specifically targeted on such an aim. And there are numerous signs that the gap is slowly closing. Perhaps most striking is the example of Jordan who will host next year’s FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup – the first global female tournament to be held in the Arab world. This follows Jordan becoming the first west Asian nation to feature at the AFC Women’s Asian Cup, which they did last year with distinction.
So too, Thailand enjoyed a milestone moment when they competed at this year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup, where their positive play and attitude was warmly welcomed. Thailand qualified with a narrow win over Vietnam as a heaving 18,000 crowd in Ho Chi Minh City gave another insight into the latent potential for women’s football in that part of the world.
There are similarly positive signs of fresh sprouts appearing in the younger age groups too. Thailand recently shocked Korea Republic – one of the ‘big five’ – en-route to the semi-finals of the FIFA U-17 World Cup qualifying tournament. Further afield, even Guam – one of the continent’s smallest nations – have made progress at youth level.
Numerous west Asian nations are now engaging with women’s football and an impressive 52 per cent of AFC Member Association’s now have a top national women’s league. Meanwhile, 36 of the continent’s 46 have entered a continental competition at senior or youth level.
Asia’s top women’s football coaches recently gathered at the first AFC Women’s Elite Coaches’ Forum in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to map out a successful future for women’s football on the continent. Coaches from the top 18 FIFA-ranked AFC Member Associations exchanged views and made proposals to ensure women’s football will continue on the right path in Asia.
There has been much change in Asia in the past 40 years since the maiden edition of the AFC Women’s Asian Championship was held. And current indications are that the current groundwork being laid will see that development continue to grow exponentially.