Today is the day that we will see the 20th edition of the AFC Women's Asian Cup get underway in India. With the tournament being expanded from eight teams to twelve teams for the first time, meaning five teams can gain direct qualification to the 2023 Women's World Cup through the knockout stage. Whereas, two more teams will advance to the inter-confederation play-offs.
Background and history
In 1975 the first Women's Asian Cup took place, with the Asian Ladies Football Confederation (ALFC) organising the competition. The ALFC was a its own organisation, but was soon absorbed into the AFC in 1986. During its early conception, the tournament took place every two years, with matches being played for 60 minutes between 1975 and 1981. There was one time where the tournament was made to take place every three years in the 1980's, but it swiftly returned back to two years.
From 2014, the competition was moved to take place every four years and that it would serve as a qualification process for the Women's World Cup.
For a long time, there has not been a particularly consistent amount of teams participating in the competition. At it's inception it was 6 for a few tournaments and then became more sporadic. However, in recent editions the numbers of teams were 8 until it was announced that for this 2022 edition, it would expand teams from 8 to 12.
The competition has been heavily dominated by East Asian Countries, with China winning the tournament 8 times, which included a period of 7 consecutive competition wins between 1986 and 1999.
The tournament will run from 20th January 2022 until the final on 6th February 2022
For the first time, there are twelve teams competing in this edition of the Asian Cup; having previously being expanded from eight teams. These twelve teams are separated into three groups of four, with the draw for the groups having taken place on 28th October 2021 and seedings for the pots decided on their performance at the Women's Asian Cup in 2018 and qualifiers.
In the group stage, each team will play each other once, with the top two teams progressing through to the quarter-finals and the two third best-placed teams.
The all time leading champions, China are in pursuit to reign once more in the competition. The news of appointing ex-Chinese National Team player Shui Qingxia, was one which was well recieved by fans and the hopes are she can help this new generation Chinese side.
Currently ranked 19th in the World, you could argue that the Chinese National Team has stagnated over recent years. But recently, the development of players both in terms of youth prospects joining the team and current players getting more experience, illustrates that China should definitely be a side to watch for this tournament. The Steel Roses have an experienced core at the heart of their team, with the likes Zhang Rui, Wang Shuang and Wang Shanshan helping lead and command the side. Whereas they have also added Tang Jiali, from Tottenham Hotspur into the squad. Jiali (Along with Shen Mengyu for Celtic) was the first ever Chinese Women's footballer to play in the UK, when she joined Spurs on loan from Shanghai Shengli last year. She was surprisingly left out of the Olympics 2020 squad despite impressive performances in the qualifications, but manager Qingxia would not make the same mistake as her former counterpart. China have a rather fortuitous group and expectations will certainly be to top the group with three wins out of three
Player to watch: Wang Shuang
This will be Taiwan's first time back in the Asian Cup for 14 years, last appearing in the 2008 edition of the competition. It may surprise some that aren't too familiar with Asian football, but Taiwan have won the competition three times, with those triumphs coming in 1977, 1979 and 1981. The side will head into this tournament believing anything is possible
Despite their hopes, it will be a difficult tournament for Taiwan. Particularly with drawing China in their group, as they have never won a game against the side. The team are comprised almost entirely of locally based players, with only the additions of goalkeepers Tsai Ming-Jung and Cheng Ssu-Yu joining the team from their respective Japanese club sides. Taiwan have a good mix of experienced veterans and young and emerging players such as Ting Chia-Ying and Su Yu-Hsuan. Drawing into a group alongside China, India and Iran, I would imagine a second or third place finish would be most likely and one which meets the teams expectations. With an increase in World Cup slots, Taiwan will be one of a few teams trying to vie for the position
Player to watch: Lai Li-chin
The hosts will likely be in high spirits knowing that they have the backing and support of the nation on their shoulders. The Blue Tigresses would likely have been further motivated if they were to have fans in the stands, but due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the games are taking place behind closed doors.
Expectations are high, with most expecting the team to reach at the least the quarter-finals of the competition and secure a spot at the Women's World Cup 2023. With the appointment of Swedish manager, Thomas Dennerby, this India team will take to the field with a very experimental and young side. Dennerby has experience of managing women's national teams, previously coaching the India U17 women from 2019-2021 and prior to that he managed Nigeria Women and Sweden Women. His experiences as a coach will be fruitful for the side and help provide insight, training and management the women have not had before.
All of the players from the team play in the domestic league which is seen as quite 'weak' in comparison to other women's football leagues in the continent. However, last year Dennerby arranged friendlies for India to play against. With games against the likes of Brazil and Sweden. It has given the Blue Tigresses invaluable experience against top opponents and hopefully the lessons learnt from those matches will translate into their performances during this competition.
Player to watch: Manisha Kalyan
This will be Iran's debut in the Asian Cup, after winning in dramatic fashion over Jordan in a penalty shootout. Ranked 70th in the World and 14th in Asia, this Iranian side won't be expecting too much from the competition, however the experience will be incredibly vital towards the teams development going forward
The Team Melli Baanovaan are composed of almost entirely domestic players, with only midfielder Yasaman Farmani, from Sporting Charleroi and goalkeeper Maryam Yektaei from Beskitas, being the exceptions.
The Iranian side have tried before to qualify for this tournament on numerous occassions, like in 2010, 2014 and 2018. Finally achieving their goal, it has sparked a movement in Iran and in women's football and hopefully one which can cause change for the better. Despite the low expectations of many, head coach Maryam Irandoost has worked hard for this moment and believes her side will put in some spirited performances during the competition.
Player to watch: Yasaman Farmani
Australia enter the tournament as the highest ranked national team and the firm favourites to win the competition. Despite being the high flyers that they are with an undoubtedly talented team, Australia have only won the Asian Cup once, but have come close on several occassions.
The Matilda's boast a plethora of talented and experienced players in their squad, with 10 of them coming from clubs in the Women's Super League in England. With the likes of Sam Kerr, Emily Van Egmond, Alanna Kennedy and Tameka Yallop leading the side in terms of experience. Matilda's manager Tony Gustavsson, has also added some young prospects to the side. Such as 19 year old Courtney Nevin, 18 year old forward Holly McNamara and defender Ellie Carpenter. Australia with be a thoroughly entertaining side to watch and expectations will surely be on reaching the final and winning the cup. Particularly with them argubably having the 'easiest' group on paper. But, they musn't get complacent.
Player to watch: Sam Kerr
This is the first time since 1989 that Indonesia have qualified for the Women's Asian Cup. Despite only playing four editions of the competition before now, the Garuda Pertiwi have finished in 4th on two occassions. Underdogs? Maybe. But they are excited and ready for the challenge.
Indonesian women's football is generally one of the more 'undeveloped' in Asia, with women's football being viewed as 'untraditional' and has poor facilities, funding and prospect for young woman. Which is a stark contrast when compared to men's football in the country.
The Indonesia squad were entirely comprised of domestic league players. However, up until two weeks ago, it was announced that 19 year old defender, Shalika Aurelia, made history when she became the first woman from Indonesia to join Italian outfit, AS Roma. The move is huge for Indonesian football and women's football in Indonesia. Giving hope to many young girls and women out there that it is possible to make a career as a female footballer. As much as the side have the ability to cause an upset, I do think they will struggle in what is a tough group with a very good Australia side and ambitious teams in Thailand and Philippines.
Player to watch: Zahra Muzdalifah
The Philippines have played in nine editions of the Asian Cup, but have never managed to proceed any further than the group stages. Only ever winning 3 games out of the 31 they have played in and conceding a whopping 180 times. It will be a challenge for the Malditas, but one they will be up for.
But despite their previous misfortunes, the Malditas are looking to bring a young and exuberant squad under new manager Alen Stajcic. The Australian has a vast amount of experience and knowledge managing top sides, such as Sydney FC Women, Australia Women between 2014-2019 and previously Central Coast Mariners in A-League. Stajcic is clearly not afraid of the challenge, bringing in numerous players for their first callups to the side, such as 18 year old Malea Cesar, Kiara Fontanilla and Dominique Randle. Unlike other Asian sides, this Philippines squad is made up of players who ply their trade in the US, playing for university teams alongside their studies. They also have the likes of Sarina Bolden and Quinley Quezada who have just joined their respective teams in the new WE.League (Women's Empowerment League) in Japan. Their only 30+ player comes in the form of captain Tahnai Annis. It should be very intriguing and exciting to see this new look Philippines side and could well be the dark horse of the competition.
Player to watch: Quinley Quezada
Thailand have participated the most of any side in the Asian Cup, qualifying 17 times. Arguably their best years came at the competitions inception, winning the cup in 1983 and finishing 2nd in 1975, 1977 and 1981. The Chaba Kaew will be expecting to reach at least the quarter final and a World Cup spot
Despite their early success, the Thai National team did miander for some time. Failing to qualify for major tournaments. However, in recent years Thailand have seen an almost rejuvenation. The players have developed and gained more experience through playing more competitive sides. Despite the results they sustained at the 2019 World Cup, being able to play against top teams such as Sweden and the US has been a crucial learning opportunity. Whilst the squad is almost entirely made up of domestic players, there are the likes of veteran and all time leader Thai goalscorer, Pitsamai Sornsai who plays in Taiwan, 23 year old goalkeeper Tiffany Sornpao, playing for Keflavik in Iceland and Miranda Nild playing for Kristianstads in Sweden on loan from Lyon. Under new manager Miyo Okamoto, Thailand have a balanced squad in terms of youth, experience and veterans who can lead the side.
Player to watch: Miranda Nild
Japan are the 2018 reigning champions and will be heading into this tournament hoping to make it two consecutive cup wins. Firm favourites alongside the likes of Australia and China, Japan will be hoping to improve on their performances in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
The Nadeshiko appointed former Japan U-20 and U-17 women's manager, Futoshi Ikeda to take over at the helm and has picked a good but perhaps experimental squad for the tournament. Opting for a mix between maturity, potential and tournament experience, calling up 14 players which participated in the Olympics. Under his tenure, Japan did play two friendlies against Iceland and the Netherlands last year, which resulted in a surprising 2-0 loss to Iceland and a 0-0 draw to Holland. Despite dominating possession, they were unable to score a single goal, which is something Ikeda will need to rectify if he wants this Nadeshiko team to be considered amongst the World's elite once more. The squad picked has left some scratching their heads and questioning why Ikeda left out the likes Narumi Miura and Hina Sugita. However, additions such as Fuka Nagano, Riko Ueki and Risa Shimizu have pleased many. But, of course most WSL fans will be aware and looking out for how Yui Hasegawa and Mana Iwabuchi perform in the competition. Under Ikeda, Japan have been looking to play a more possession orientated game with short passing in order to drag the opposition away from their defensive positions and use the space left to create an attacking opportunities
Player(s) to watch: Mina Tanaka and Yui Hasegawa
Despite participating in the competition 13 times, South Korea are yet to triumph as champions. With their best finish coming in 2003, when they achieved 3rd place. The Taegeuk are currently ranked 18th in the World and 5th best in Asia. Regardless of past results, this South Korea will be heading into this tournament with determination
Manager Colin Bell, has picked a squad which relies heavily on experience and maturity. It should come as no shock to see Chelsea player Ji So-yun called up and captaining the Korea side, along with Brighton midfielder Lee Geum-min and Spurs Cho So-hyun. But, Bell has also called up young players such as 21 year old Lee Jeong-min, 20 year old Cho Mi-jin and 21 year old defender Choo Hyo-joo. Finishing 3rd again like they did in 2003, would be a big acheivement for South Korea and would guarantee them a World Cup spot. I think it is likely to see the side reach the quarter-finals, if not semi-finals. However, with South Korea sharing a group with Japan, it will be vital for the Taegeuk to win their other two games prior to meeting them in the penultimate group match, otherwise they may well see an early exit from the competition or make things harder for themselves for those two third best placed finishes.
Player to watch: Ji So-yun
Despite the current unrest in the country, the Myanmar women's national team have done their country proud for securing their 5th Asian Cup position. Myanmar made their debut in 2003 and have played in each edition expect for 2008 and 2018, however they have never exceeded the group stages
With one of the youngest squads in the competition, with a team age average of 22, they will certainly be an interesting side to watch to see how their young players perform. All but one of their players play in the domestic Myanmar league, with prolific goalscorer Win Theingi Tun playing in India for Gokulam Kerala. At only 26, she has 56 goals in 60 appearances for the Asian Lionesses. Manager Tin Myint Aung, has called up many young women into the side, giving them their first caps for the country and a chance to gain match experience against some of the top sides in Asia. Which going forward, should hopefully prove to be invaluable for the national team in the future. Myanmar will not be going into this tournament expecting to necessarily go far, but perhaps they may cause an upset or two in the Group C.
Player to watch: Win Theingi Tun
Vietnam have played in the Asian Cup on 9 occassions, qualifying for the last 9 consecutively. However, their highest placed finish came in 2014, when they finished in 6th place. With an additional World Cup spot up for grabs, the Golden Star Women will be hoping that they can be one of the teams which benefits from the expansion
Manager Mai Đức Chung, has picked a relativley youthful side, with only one player 30 or over and that comes in the form of 30 year old team captain and goal poacher Huynh Nhu. Undoubtedly the teams best player and talisman, Nhu boasts an impressive goal to game ratio, scoring 48 goals in 50 appearance for Vietnam. However, they also have experienced players in the form of Nguyễn Thị Tuyết Dung, Dương Thị Vân and 28 year old defender Phạm Thị Tươi. Facing a group with the likes of Japan and South Korea won't be easy, but perhaps Vietnam can attempt to secure third place position and hope that they are one of the two best third placed teams in the competition.
Player to watch: Huỳnh Như
It was originally announced in June 2021 that the three host cities of the tournament would be Ahmedabad, Bhubaneswar and Navi Mumbai. However, a month later it was announced that Mumbai, Navi Mumbai and Pune would be the new host cities for the competition. Unfortunately due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, all games will be played behind closed doors and with teams remaining in a 'bubble' system and having regular covid tests
Mumbai Football Arena - 18,000
Home to Indian Super League side, Mumbai City. The Mumbai Football Arena was constructed in 1988, but renovated in 2016 when a local politican and bollywood star helped finance the modernisation. The stadium is used solely for football matches and tournaments.
DY Patil Stadium - 55,000
Whilst primarily used for cricket matches, DY Patil Stadium also doubles up as a venue for football matches. With it being the second home ground for the aforementioned Mumbai City. As well as the stadium itself, it also includes 9 tennis, courts, 4 badminton courts, and an Olympic sized swimming pool.
Shree Shiv Chhatrapati Sports Complex - 11,900
Built in 1994 for the National Games, the Sports Complex boasts various facilities as well as its athletics stadium and football pitch. I-League football club, Pune FC, make use of the stadium for their home matches and Indian National team games have also been hosted at this venue before
How to watch
The Women's Asian Cup 2022 seems to be getting alot of traction this time around and rightly so. Numerous broadcasters have acquired the rights to show the games in numerous countries across the world.
Thankfully if like me and you live in the UK. It was announced by FreeSports that they will be showing all games of the competition live and for free on their channel, website and app
For those of you outside of the UK. The AFC website has documented which boradcasters are showing the games here: https://www.the-afc.com/en/national/afc_womens_asian_cup/where_to_watch.html