Road to France 2019: What's next for Asia's fab five
Kuala Lumpur: After a busy month of international action, the-AFC.com assesses the trajectory of Asia's successful 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France qualifiers, and looks at what lies ahead before next year's Finals.
Three months after retaining their status as Asian Champions, Japan showed they have a long way to go before they again reach the top of the world, and Asako Takakura was frustrated to lose all three matches in a Tournament of Nations campaign the coach described as 'miserable'.
The Nadeshiko struggled defensively without regular captain and Best FIFA Women's Player Nominee Saki Kumagai, but the tournament did allow Takakura to introduce a number of new faces as she continues to search for the perfect combination.
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Fortunately, for Japan, they have an immediate opportunity to bounce back, with their Asian Games campaign beginning on August 15. Despite the continued absence of Kumagai, the East Asians will be among the gold medal favourites.
Following the Algarve Cup and AFC Asian Women's Cup, the Tournament of Nations was Australia's third tournament near-miss in 2018, but, unlike the previous two, the US-based competition was one where the Matildas regularly approached their best football.
Only a 90th-minute US equaliser prevented Alen Stajcic's side from winning back to back titles, as several of Australia's stars, most notably the superb Alanna Kennedy, showed their quality against three of the world's best teams.
Another positive was the presence of Caitlin Foord, whose cautious return from injury was a welcome sight for Australian fans after the 2016 AFC Women's Player of the Year missed Jordan 2018.
Club commitments will take priority for most of the squad, with a number of players focused on the business end of the American league season, with international friendlies expected to be announced for later in 2018.
Nuengrutai Srathongvian's team followed up their best AFC Women's Asian Cup campaign in a generation with more success, retaining the AFF Women's Championship with six successive wins in Palembang.
The Kanjana Sung-Ngeon-Suchawadee Nildhamrong partnership that served them so well in Jordan clicked into gear with six goals apiece, while the 4-2 win against Australia's U-20 side - where Kanjana scored a three-minute hat-trick - a particular highlight
Thailand have historically struggled at the Asian Games, and they face a challenging draw again this time alongside Japan and regional rivals Vietnam.
Icelandic head coach Siggi Eyjolfsson was replaced by Jia Xiuquan after steering the side to third place in the AFC Women's Asian Cup, and the Steel Roses produced competitive performances against world champions United States in the former Shanghai Shenhua boss' first two matches.
Falling 0-1 and 1-2 on American soil were highly creditable results against a team that haven't lost in a year, with Jordan 2018 goal machine Li Ying continuing her fine international strike rate.
After dominating the early years of women's football at the Asian Games, China PR haven't claimed gold in 20 years. The August 22 clash against a DPR Korea side that has regularly had their measure in recent years will be a good test of their progress.
Yoon Duk-yeo's side haven't been in action since the thumping 5-0 win over the Philippines that booked their ticket to France, but their players have remained busy at club level.
JI So-yun played a key role in Chelsea's League and Cup double, while captain and AFC Women's Asian Cup standout Cho So-hyun has been playing regularly after her switch to Norway
Unlucky to miss out on the AFC Women's Asian Cup semi-finals after earning draws against eventual finalists Japan and Australia, Korea Republic will see the Asian Games as a major opportunity.
The nation has never bettered the bronze medal they won in Incheon four years ago but, with a relatively straight-forward group, they will expect to advance deep into the tournament.
Photos: AFP, AFC
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