After two weeks of intense competition, the AFC Women’s Asian Cup reaches its knockout stage on Sunday with the top eight teams facing off in the quarterfinal clashes across two venues - the DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai and Shree Shiv Chhatrapati Sports Complex in Pune.
Defending champion Japan takes on a COVID-hit Thailand, while eight-time champion China faces Vietnam. In Pune, heavyweight Australia is ready for the Korea challenge, and Chinese Taipei will square off against the Philippines.
All the eight teams will have plenty to play for as the leading five teams in the tournament will qualify for next year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Being the co-host, Australia has already qualified for the FIFA showpiece event. If the Matildas do qualify for the semifinals, then the four losing teams from the quarterfinals will compete in a playoff match in Navi Mumbai on February 2. The two winning sides will gain direct slots to the World Cup, while the two losing teams will advance to the Inter-Confederation playoffs.
If Australia’s campaign ends in the last-eight stage, the three other losing teams in the quarterfinals will play in the playoff matches in a single one-round robin format, with the winner advancing to the global showpiece event and the remaining two teams booking berths for the Inter-Confederation playoffs.
However, the teams are not thinking about the equations. China hasn’t won the tournament since 2006 and Shui Qingxia’s team is chasing its first title in 16 years and after a successful outing in the league stage, Shui has made it clear that her team expects nothing less than a victory against Vietnam, which has never won the title before.
Captain Wang Shuang and seasoned forward Wang Shanshan will have to play key roles for China. They have 93 goals among them for China, with Wang Shuang having scored four in the tournament so far - one more than her team-mate. China has all its previous outings against Vietnam.
The fixture between Japan and Thailand has all the ingredients of a mouth-watering clash. Even though a COVID-19 scare has jeopardised Thailand’s preparations with head coach Miyo Okamoto and several players missing out on the crucial match, assistant head coach Natsuko Todoroki stated that the team is all geared up for the big game.
Japan had a dominant show in the tournament, starting with a 5-0 win against Myanmar and followed it up with a victory against Vietnam and a draw with Korea. Ahead of the knockouts, the team will be hoping to keep the momentum going.
In the other match, a buoyant Korea will take on the mighty Aussies. Korea coach Colin Bell opined playing against world-class players like Sam Kerr should be an added motivation for the team.
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