A fortnight of the best of Asian women’s football ended with China lifting its record ninth AFC Women’s Asian Cup title beating Korea Republic 3-2 in a nervy final . From historic first-time World Cup entrants to unique milestones, here are some of the standout moments from the 2022 edition of the tournament.
1. Iran’s Asian Cup debut : Iran’s participation in the Asian Cup this time, the nation’s debut at the tournament, is historic in many ways. As the one nation in the world where hijabs are mandatory for women, the country faced a number of sanctions, including a ban from FIFA in 2011 during Olympic qualifiers, for the same. The nation tried to qualify for the event in 2010, 2014 and 2018 but managed to breakthrough in the 2022 season, drawing its opening match against India (which was eventually declared null and void), but suffering heavy losses against China (0-7) and Chinese Taipei (0-5).
Led by imperious head coach Maryam Irandoost, the team is confident that its way now as a footballing nation for women is forward.
“I have gone through these 42 years and have often been asked why a girl should play football, [and that it is] better to cook Ghorme Sabzi ,” Irandoost said earlier in the tournament.
Irandoost hopes the support sustains and helps her side reach the FIFA World Cup in the next five years.
2. VAR makes India debut : The Video Assistant Referee (VAR) made its maiden appearance in India in the knockout stages of the Asian Cup. It was a tournament debut for the technology as well. Six dedicated video match officials were given access to seven different live camera feeds to assess action on the field. The technology largely steered clear of controversial decisions, save maybe the penalty that was not awarded to Steph Catley in Australia’s quarterfinal loss to South Korea. VAR checks helped validate both penalty appeals in the final, one helping South Korea open the scoring and the other aiding eventual champion China’s late comeback.
3. Sam Kerr becomes Australia’s all-time top scorer : Australia’s Asian Cup campaign got off to an intimidating start as the Matildas mauled Indonesia 18-0 in the tournament opener. Five of those 18 goals came off Sam Kerr’s foot who took her international tally to 54, thereby surpassing Tim Cahill as the nation’s all-time leading scorer.
The 28-year-old has roots in India and was happy to cross off a milestone in a place and stage that was special on all counts.
“I definitely thought about that before the game; how special that would be for my family that I’m in India. It’s my first time here, so - even just seeing the culture and, when we drive here, looking outside and seeing the people - everyone has been so welcoming, and I know that there’s a lot of Indian fans out there that follow me. It’s special to break the record, but it’s a bit more special doing it here, and in the Asian Cup, which is a really important tournament to me,” she said after the opener.
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4. Favourites lose favour : If like many, you too initially had Japan and Australia pegged as finalists, one can’t blame you. These are two of the most consistent and successful teams in the recent past and boast of a team roster with players featuring in leagues across the world. Japan came in hunting for a hat-trick while 2018 runner-up Australia had some revenge to exact. However, this tournament did not place its faith in the statistics or past glory. Australia suffered a shock exit in the quarterfinals at the hands of South Korea, losing its knockout 0-1 while Japan was stunned by China in the semifinal in a game that went into penalties.
Nevertheless, its FIFA World Cup qualification remained unaffected, Japan qualifying as one of the semifinalists and the Matildas having a spot as the co-host of the showpiece.
5. Maiden World Cup tickets for Vietnam and the Philippines : Both Vietnam and the Philippines booked their 2023 FIFA World Cup berths at Chinese Taipei’s expense. The Laban Filipinas advanced to their first ever AFC Women’s Asian Cup India 2022 semifinals, defeating Chinese Taipei 4-3 on penalties after their quarterfinal ended 1-1 in extra time, securing their World Cup spot in the process. Vietnam, which lost its quarterfinal against China 1-3, secured its ticket after wins over Thailand and TPE in the playoffs. Both teams are set to make their debuts in the marquee event in what promises to be a boost for women’s football in their respective nations.
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6. China stamps dominance in tournament history : China PR has undeniably been the queen of comebacks in this edition of the Women’s Asian Cup. The Steel Roses were trailing in their semifinal against Japan but managed to equalise not once but twice, took the game into extra time and penalties and came good in the shootout. In the final against Korea Republic, China was two goals down and looked thoroughly beaten before inspired substitutes triggered a turnaround to sway the final 3-2 in China’s favour. This is China’s first title since 2006 and its ninth overall - twice as many as any other side in the competition pool. The win also marked a unique milestone for head coach and five-time WAC winner as a player Shui Qingxia, who became the first person to win the tournament as a player and a coach.