Preview - Matchday One: Group A
Chonburi: Australia will look to challenge perennial contenders Japan, while hosts Thailand face an emerging Bangladesh outfit when the AFC U-16 Women’s Championship Thailand 2019 begins on Sunday.
Besides regional glory, two berths in the 2020 FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup India are also at stake, ensuring the tournament will see the Continent's future stars giving their best.
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JAPAN v AUSTRALIA
A well-drilled Australia are hopeful their extensive preparation will translate into AFC U-16 Women’s Championship success, according to head coach Rae Dower.
It has a been a decade since an Australian team reached the knockout stage at the tournament, but Dower – who was also at the helm during Australia’s group stage elimination in 2017 - says her young charges have benefitted from a preparation which has produced 12 consecutive wins in a series of far-flung destinations.
“Two years ago, in preparation for this tournament, we had about eight days together prior to coming away. The bulk of this squad has been together for nearly 12 months now,” said the former Canberra United coach.
“We have travelled a lot of kilometres – from Australia to the Kyrgyz Republic, and then to Laos for our second qualification. What that has done is allow our players to get experience and exposure to international travel, different time zones, all those things you need to be able to adapt to in international football."
In addition to their qualification path, the Junior Matildas have recently completed a successful tour of Oceania, allowing them to acclimatise to conditions also common in Chonburi.
“That was extremely beneficial in terms of coming out of the Australian winter where our training base was -5 (degrees Celsius),” explained Dower. “We were able to prepare in the hot and humid conditions we will experience here.”
Despite their travels, Australia have seldom been tested on the pitch, racking up a number of emphatic wins in a qualifying campaign which produced 46 goals without reply.
They are expected to encounter a steep learning curve in their opening clash against Japan - three-time AFC U-16 Women’s Championship winners - who have never finished outside the top three.
A top-three finish has traditionally been enough to secure qualification for the following year’s FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup, but with India hosting the 2020 edition, only the winners and runners-up will advance to the world stage this time around.
Despite the reduced margin for error, Japan head coach Michihisa Kano said the change will have no impact on his side’s mindset.
“Even though there are fewer places available at the World Cup, the approach of the team hasn’t changed,” said the 43-year-old.
“We are focusing on every single game, and every single game is important. The first game will be important, and we will take that approach to the following games. If that results in us taking one of the top two places, that will be good for us.”
Japan and Australia’s last meeting in the competition came at the same venue and stage of the competition in 2017, with Japan running out 5-0 winners.
JAPAN v AUSTRALIA
IPE Chonburi Stadium, 16:00 (UTC +7)
THAILAND v BANGLADESH
Thailand head coach Kaenson Naruephon’s objective is clear ahead his side’s opening match against Bangladesh – to be the first Thai team to qualify for the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup.
Semi-final appearances have represented the high watermark of Thailand’s previous involvements in the AFC U-16 Women’s Championship, but Naurephon – who currently also serves at head coach of the senior women’s national team – believes his young charges are well prepared.
“For now, we will do our best as the host. Our expectation is the same as every team – to go to the World Cup,”
“We have continued on from the Qualifiers last year and we have already had one and a half years with this team. We are ready to participate in this important tournament."
Having led the Chaba Kaew at the recent AFF Women’s Championship, also in Chonburi, Kaenson said his young charges were able to use the proximity of the competition to learn from their senior counterparts.
“We use the basis and the same standard across all our women’s football (teams),” he said.
“The last competition was used to show the girls, so they could see the level of passion the senior team have and develop themselves.”
While Thailand will be confident of three points against a Bangladesh team featuring a number of familiar faces from their winless 2017 campaign, returning head coach Golam Robbani Choton says his side has taken a leap forward in the time that has passed since their last appearance in Chonburi.
“Our girls have been training for the last 16 months with us,” he said. “We have been through two qualification rounds, the first round in Dhaka and the second in Myanmar and after we finished in Myanmar, the girls have been training with us for the last six months"
“We arrived in Thailand on September 5th and we played three friendly matches. Our girls have learned a lot.
“Two years ago, the Bangladesh team was new. It was a very new team playing against Japan, Australia and DPR Korea. It was a big difference.
“I think the Bangladesh team will compete in this tournament and we will show our improvement.”
Bangladesh will become the first South Asian team to advance to the AFC U-16 Women’s Championship semi-finals if they advance from the group stage, with India the only team from the region to have won a match in the competition.
THAILAND v BANGLADESH
Chonburi Stadium, 19:00 (UTC +7)
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