The AFC Women’s Asian Cup is finally at its business end with four teams – Japan, China, Korea Republic, and the Philippines – set to fight it out for a place in the summit clash.
Defending champion Japan takes on celebrated challenger China while first-time World Cup entrants, the Philippines, has a tough task on hand when it goes up against Korea in the other semifinal of WAC 2022 at the Shree Shiv Chhatrapati Sports Complex in Pune on Thursday.
Can China finally stop Japan?
Winning the tournament this year will make Japan just the third side to manage an Asian Cup title hattrick. Standing in its way is an old rival – China. The two have clashed four times in the last five semifinals of the competition. With Japan winning three, including the last two.
China, the eight-time winners, last won the title in 2006 and Shui Qingxia’s Steel Roses will look to make amends.
“I think the past should remain in the past. Our focus right now is the match against Japan. Anything is possible in football, and we will do our best to beat our opponents tomorrow. We’re very much focused on our football,” coach Shui said in the run-up to the game.
“My expectations are high, and we want to win the AFC Women’s Asian Cup. It has always been our goal. We’ve paid close attention to details, especially improving the players’ speed and strength and they have shown plenty of improvement since last year. We strive for success but whatever the result, we will accept it.”
Japan head coach Futoshi Ikeda, without giving much away, said strategies are in place to halt China's progress to the final. “Our opponents can be dangerous, and we have identified players who tend to find empty spaces. We must be aware of these situations and try to control the match. It will not be easy, but we are confident of getting the result,” he said.
Historic step forward?
Meanwhile, the Philippines will want to keep the celebrations of earning a direct qualification to the 2023 World Cup aside as it takes on Korea which has a superior head-to-head record.
Colin Bell’s side won its last two international fixtures against the Philippines, scoring nine unanswered goals. This includes a massive 5-0 win in the fifth-place playoff in Jordan to snatch the final ticket to the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
However, Alen Stajcic’s girls are up to the task. Despite coming into the semifinal after a physically tiring 120-minute against Chinese Taipei that they won on penalties, this side is running on momentum and adrenaline.
"Both teams have had their physical challenges. Without question, they are the favourites, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to win. They have got to win the game out on the field and all I can promise is that we’re going to give them a fight," Stajcic said ahead of the tie.
Apart from a 4-0 loss to the Matildas, the side managed comfortable wins over Thailand, Indonesia, and more recently Chinese Taipei.
“Against Australia, we showed that we can create two or three chances, and against Chinese Taipei, we were dominating the game despite being ranked 64. Attacking is a lot about mindset, and I know the mindset in this team is right. We can go forward and put pressure on the Korea Republic as well,” he added.
Bell does not want to take the Philippines for granted despite going into this fixture as the favourite.
“The first objective was to get to the World Cup, and this was achieved, but it doesn’t stop there. We want to overcome this hurdle against the Philippines, who will do everything they can to stop us from reaching that goal,” he said.
“I don’t think stats or history make a difference, if that was the case then we wouldn’t have beaten Australia. That is history and it’s important, we can learn from that. Tomorrow is a different situation and it’s more important that we focus on our task and the team ahead of us.”
Latest on Sportstar
- French Open: Sabalenka, Djokovic hoping to steer clear of controversy
- ENG vs IRE Test, day 1: England takes control against Ireland as Broad stars with ball
- ‘I will continue’: Ronaldo says he’ll stay in Saudi
- India wins Junior Asia Cup, beats Pakistan 2-1
- Champions League final referee under UEFA scrutiny for links to far-right leader in Poland