- Japan retain crown as AFC’s Women’s World Cup qualifiers conclude
- Australia, China, Thailand and Korea Republic also set for France 2019
- Thailand achieve best result for over three decades
Japan retained their AFC Asian Women’s Cup crown in a tournament which determined the five nations that will represent the world’s most populous continent at the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019™.
Eight Asian nations did battle over the past fortnight in Amman as Jordan hosted its biggest event since the 2016 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup. In a tournament which commenced with pre-qualifiers in early 2017, Japan came out on top after earning a late 1-0 win over Australia in the tournament finale.
Five tickets to France 2019 were also handed out, with Japan, Australia, China PR, Thailand and Korea Republic repeating their feat of four years ago by securing passage to the world stage.
Also qualified for France 2019: Australia, China PR, Thailand, Korea Republic
Most Valuable Player: Mana Iwabuchi (Japan)
Top Scorer: Li Ying (China PR)
Much has changed for Japan over the past four years, with many of their globally recognised players having departed the international stage. But the likes of former youth starlets Mana Iwabuchi and Kumi Yokoyama, who scored the tournament winner, have ably stepped into the void. Also impressing over the past fortnight were youngsters such as wide midfielder Yui Hasegawa and goalkeeper Ayaka Yamashita – both of whom look likely to be regulars for years to come. Despite ultimately winning a second Asian crown, Japan drew 0-0 with Korea Republic and needed a tight 1-1 draw with Australia to reach the semis.
It was a mixed tournament for Asia’s most in-form team. Australia outplayed Japan and especially Korea Republic in the group stage, only to draw. They then needed penalties to see off Thailand, despite entering the match with just one defeat in 18 outings. The Matildas, however, turned that modest form around to outshine Japan in the final, having 23 shots to the Nadeshiko’s five, and earning 60 per cent possession. Nonetheless, numerous wasted opportunities, including an Elise Kellond-Knight penalty miss, eventually proved fatal to Australia’s hopes of winning their first title since 2010.
The Steel Roses appear to be developing smoothly under new coach Siggi Eyjolfsson. Three confident group victories over Thailand, Philippines and Jordan saw China become the first nation globally to join hosts France at the Women’s World Cup. They finished third after a 3-1 semi-final defeat against Japan. Forward Li Ying stamped her mark on the tournament with seven goals to be top scorer, three clear of the nearest challenger.
After a gruelling debut on the world stage in 2015, Thailand will head to France emboldened by their showing in Jordan. They achieved their first top-four appearance since 1986, and were just minutes away from an unlikely spot in the final. With qualification for France assured after wins over Jordan and Philippines, Thailand were only denied by an injury-time equaliser from Australia. Lively forward Kanjana Sungngoen impressed with four goals, helping fill the void left by the absence of reliable goalscorer Orathai Srimanee for the final two matches.
Much like at Canada 2015, Korea Republic proved well organised and tough to break down, but a lack of cutting edge in attack proved costly. Resilient scoreless draws against Australia and Japan, plus a 4-0 win over Vietnam ensured qualification for a third Women’s World Cup. But despite the presence of proven attackers such as Ji Soyun and Jeon Gaeul, Korea Republic missed a spot in the semi-finals on goal difference. That meant a play-off against Philippines, when Korea Republic’s experience proved telling in a 5-0 victory.
The other contenders
After narrowly missing Asian qualification last time, Philippines shone on their long-awaited debut at this level, defeating Jordan 2-1 in their opener, eventually falling just 90 minutes short of a spot in France.
If Philippines had something to celebrate, there was disappointment for Jordan and Vietnam. The hosts were unable to maintain momentum from their strong debut four years ago, while 2014 play-off participants Vietnam finished bottom of their section, albeit after being drawn in a tough group.