The identity of the last four standing in the 2018 Women’s Asian Cup will not come as a major surprise. China have been dominant in Group A and are gunning for the title along with 2011 world champions Japan and a strong Australian team. Thailand are the relative outsiders but this is a team that appeared at the 2015 World Cup.
The Asian Cup is not just about winning the continental title however as it gives five places at the World Cup. The aforementioned quartet have bagged the first four. There is one remaining and it could go to the Philippines and if all goes well for the team, then South-east Asia could have an unprecedented two representatives in France next summer. All they have to do is beat South Korea in a winner-takes-all play-off game on Monday in the Jordanian capital of Amman.
It would be amazing for Southeast Asia to have two out of 24 teams in France; eight and a half percent of the teams in the World Cup would be a real feather in the cap for the region.
The signs are good for women’s football. Only eight nations compete in the Asian Cup but this time three of the eight were ASEAN countries. It is something that has gone largely unnoticed outside the region itself. But it is truly impressive that Vietnam, Philippines and Thailand all made it, having almost half of the representatives in Asia’s biggest tournament in women’s football is an exciting development.
These are interesting times for football in the Philippines. It is sometimes too easy to talk of turning points in a nation’s football history but there should be a lot of attention on events in Amman on Monday evening, or the early hours of Tuesday morning in Manila.
The Philippines women’s team are just 90 minutes away from the World Cup. If the team defeats South Korea then they will be heading to France in the summer of 2019. What a trip that would be.
The men booked their place at their first-ever Asian Cup just last month. That was seen, rightly, as a significant step forward for the country, but there is no doubt that the women are worthy of equal praise.
The female edition have already shown that they have what it takes to mix it with the big powers in the continental game. The opening match was against Jordan, the hosts. To take on the home team in a big tournament is a tough task. There was a big crowd and a big occasion.
Then came defeats against China and Thailand but that’s nothing to worry about too much for a team that is still developing. Now comes the clash with South Korea. It is a one-off game with high stakes. Korea, not a traditional powerhouse in the Asian women’s game, are still very much the favourites. The Taeguk Ladies were unlucky not to reach the semi-finals. They finished on the same points as Australia and Japan, and on the same goal difference with the 2011 world champs, but failed to progress due to scoring less goals against the other two in head-to-head meetings.
Lee Min-a has been impressing in midfield, the defence has yet to concede a single goal in 270 minutes of tournament football so far and then there is Ji So-yeon, one of the stars of the world game and a big-name for Chelsea. It will be a tough game but the reward will be great.
The Philippines is a nation that is still trying to build the football industry but things are coming together. The men’s team are preparing for the Asian Cup and the country’s clubs are going very well in the AFC Cup. The major issue at the moment is the fledgling national league that is still struggling to find a foothold in its second season but any success on the international stage can only help.
What football in the country obviously needs is more people playing the game, engaging with the game and getting involved with the game. As women make up half of the 100 million or so population, success in the women’s game can obviously be a big deal.
The idea of the Philippines making it is not just exciting for Southeast Asia to give the region two teams at the World Cup next year, it would be a very big deal for the Philippines.
Few countries have the potential of the Philippines in football and few countries could benefit more from getting to the World Cup. Southeast Asia should cheer on the Philippines against South Korea on Monday.