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Youth competitions the launchpad for Asia’s stars

Saturday, July 13, 2019
Ji So-yun, Sam Kerr, Mana Iwabuchi, Wang Shuang

Kuala Lumpur: As the dust settles on the FIFA Women’s World Cup, attention turns to the Continent’s major women’s youth competitions, which produced more than 80 per cent of the Asian players at France 2019.

The AFC U-16 Women’s Championship and the AFC U-19 Women’s Championship – both to be staged in Thailand in late 2019 – are considered some of the strongest women’s youth competitions in the world, producing seven World Cup-winners at either U-17 or U-20 level.

But while both competitions have produced globally competitive age-group sides, their long-term value is highlighted by the central role they played as a pathway to senior World Cup football for Asian players.

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4 in 5 Asian players in France came through AFC youth tournaments

Of the 115 players to have been selected in Asian squads at the FIFA Women’s World Cup, 90 (78.3 per cent) participated in the AFC U-19 Women’s Championship earlier in their careers.

In addition, nearly half of the players in the five Asian teams in France – 54 of 115 players – gained experience in the AFC U-16 Women’s Championship.

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It total 95, or 82.6 per cent of Asia’s 115 players at France 2019 played in either, or both of the Continent’s two major women’s youth competitions, including Qualifiers, prior to their World Cup appearances.

The past three winners of the AFC’s Women’s Player of the Year award – Caitlin Foord, Sam Kerr and Wang Shuang – all played in both the U-16 and U-19 tournaments, a path also followed by stars such as Mana Iwabuchi and Ji So-yun.

An impressive 21 of Japan’s 23-strong 2019 World Cup squad played in the AFC U-19 Women’s Championship, while 20 of the Australian squad participated in the competition, including Mary Fowler (pictured below, left) and Karly Roestbakken (pictured below, right), who appeared in the qualifiers for the 2019 edition.

Korea Republic’s squad featured 19 AFC U-19 graduates, as well as Jung Bo-ram, who participated in the AFC U-16 Women’s Championship in 2007, while Jia Xiuquan’s China PR travelling party featured 18 youth competition alumni, 16 of whom played in the AFC U-19 Women’s Championship.

Thailand’s tally of 16 players to have participated in either of the two major AFC tournaments was the lowest among the five Asian teams, but still one which accounted for just under 70 per cent of their playing squad.

#AFCU16W Thailand 2019 draw results. The competition will be played from September 15 - 28, 2019!

— AFC (@theafcdotcom) May 23, 2019

The recent graduates

Appearances in major youth competitions are one of many small steps on the road to becoming a senior FIFA Women’s World Cup player, but a handful of Asian players made the leap to the game’s biggest stage from the most recent edition of the AFC U-19 Women’s Championship, staged in Nanjing in 2017.

Four of Japan’s 2017 AFC U-19 Women’s Championship, and 2018 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup-winning side earned selection for France, with Moeka Minami , Jun Endo and Saori Takarada all appearing in multiple matches for the Nadeshiko.

China PR goalkeeper Peng Shimeng made a stunning debut on the world stage, earning Player of the Match honours against Spain and the nickname ‘The Great Wall of China’, while back-up goalkeeper Xu Huan was also part of their 2017 U-19 squad.

Australian full-back Ellie Carpenter established herself as an irreplaceable component in Ante Milicic’s Matildas line-up, while Karly Rosetbakken – a graduate of the 2017 AFC U-16 Championship – made her international debut during the tournament.

Japan’s Asato Miyagawa and Thailand’s Phonphirun Philawan were called up to their respective national teams but didn’t appear on the pitch at the World Cup, while Australia’s Fowler, who scored seven goals in qualifying for the 2019 edition also stayed on the bench throughout the tournament.

#AFCU19W Thailand 2019 draw results. The competition will be played October 27 - November 9, 2019!

— AFC (@theafcdotcom) May 23, 2019

The class of 2019

With this year’s global showpiece consigned to the history books, Asia’s future FIFA Women’s World Cup stars are now set to follow the well-worn path of those who have come before them.

The AFC U-16 Women’s Championship will be held in Thailand from September 15 to 28, while the AFC U-19 Women’s Championship, also to be staged in Thailand, will run from October 27 to November 9.

Photos: FIFA via Getty Images

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