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History, star players, coaches: All you need to know about the contenders


Kuala Lumpur: History will be made on Tuesday, when four of Asia’s elite women’s clubs take to the Continental stage in the inaugural AFC Women’s Club Championship in Korea Republic.

Having proven themselves on the domestic front, Incheon Hyundai Steel Red Angels, Nippon TV Beleza, Melbourne Victory and Jiangsu Suning Ladies Football Club will have the chance to claim the title of Asia’s best, with six high-quality matches over three Matchdays to determine the maiden champions at the FIFA/AFC Pilot Tournament.

With the countdown to the landmark event approaching its final days, the-AFC.com shines the spotlight on the four teams competing in Yongin.

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INCHEON HYUNDAI STEEL RED ANGELS (KOR)

History

Founded in 1993, Incheon Hyundai Steel Red Angels have been a powerhouse of the Korean women’s game from virtually the moment the WK League began in 2009, topping the league table in 2010 but losing the league Championship decider for the first four years of the competition.

From 2013 onwards, however, Incheon’s competitiveness has evolved into dominance, finishing on top of the league and winning the championship play-off for seven consecutive seasons.

Incheon have long been the team to beat in the WK League, but – with just one defeat in their last 56 regular season matches - doing so has become an increasingly rare achievement for their domestic rivals

That was never clearer than when Gyeongju KHNP pulled off an improbable 3-0 first leg win in the 2018 championship play-off, only for the Red Angels to ultimately, and miraculously overturn the result on penalties after an epic second leg, which included a 95th-minute equaliser.

 

 

2019 so far

The Red Angels enjoyed a characteristically dominant year in 2019, winning 10 more matches than anyone else in the country and finishing a stunning 27 points clear on top of the league table.

Their biggest test came in the Championship play-off, where they were held to a scoreless draw by Suwon UDC in the first leg and needed a 71st minute goal from Brazilian Thais Guedes to finally claim the title with a 1-0 win.

Head coach: Jong Song-chon (KOR)

A former men’s U-23 international with long-term experience in the KFA women’s setup, Jong led Korea Republic at three FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cups, reaching the quarter-finals twice, and was part of the senior staff at several major international tournaments.

The 47-year-old has only joined the Korean champions in recent months, with the tournament in Yongin providing the perfect opportunity to make his mark at the club.

Player to watch: Jang Sel-gi (KOR)

With the club providing no less than 10 players for Korea Republic’s FIFA Women’s World Cup squad in France, there are plenty options to choose from, but few are as important as flying full-back Jang.

The 2018 KFA Footballer of the Year – who played every minute of Korea Republic’s France 2019 campaign - can defend, create and score goals; memorably netting the equaliser in a crucial 1-1 draw away to DPR Korea in the 2018 AFC Women’s Asian Cup Qualifiers.


MELBOURNE VICTORY (AUS)

History

With six finals series appearances in 10 seasons, Melbourne Victory have had their ups and downs in Australia’s W-League since their establishment in 2008.

A side featuring stars like Lisa De Vanna, Caitlin Foord and Jess Fishlock broke through for a Grand Final win over Brisbane Roar in 2014, but difficult years followed for the Victorians, who missed the Finals for three seasons in a row from 2015-16 to 2017-18

That run took a dramatic turn for the better last season as Jeff Hopkins’ side finished top of the table to win a first W-League Premiership after finishing seventh the previous year.

2019 so far

Victory’s Premiership title was well deserved, with American import Christine Nairn starring as the side claimed 24 points from 12 matches and spent most of the season on top of the table.

Unfortunately for Nairn and her teammates, Melbourne were unable to add a second Grand Final win to their honour board, falling 4-2 after extra time to a Sam Kerr-inspired Perth Glory in the opening week of the Finals series.

Head coach: Jeff Hopkins (WAL)

A Welsh international in his playing days, Hopkins enjoyed a long and successful career in the English professional game, also spending time in Asia at Malaysia’s Selangor in the late 1990s before transitioning into the coaching world.

Hopkins took the reins at Victory in 2016 with the club having finished last in the previous season, and has overseen a significant rise in the club’s fortunes; one which may yet end in a continental title.

Player to watch: Natasha Dowie (ENG)

League MVP Nairn has not returned for the 2019-20 campaign, while Matildas forward Emily Gielnik now turns out for German giants FC Bayern Munich, but Victory can still call on the experience, and goals, of English forward Dowie.

The 31-year-old has played club football all over the world and earned 14 caps for her country, with her nine league goals putting her second on the W-League scoring charts last season, with only the Australian national team captain Kerr finding the net more often.


NIPPON TV BELEZA (JPN)

History

Established as Yomiuri Soccer Club’s women’s team in 1981, and a founding member of the national league eight years later, Nippon TV Beleza have long been the standard-bearers in the Japanese women’s game, winning 17 league titles in a 30-year span - 14 more than their nearest competitors.

Beleza have housed some of Japan’s iconic players, including former World Player of the Year Homare Sawa - who spent more than a decade at the club over multiple spells – and nine of the Nadeshiko squad at the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France.

The club’s dominance of the domestic game was challenged when INAC Kobe Leonessa won three successive league titles from 2011 to 2013, but Beleza’s success has reached new heights since, as they recently became the first team in Japanese history to win the league five successive times, beating their own previous record of four in a row.

2019 so far

Beleza won a trophy on the very first day of 2019 - beating rivals INAC Kobe Leonessa 4-2 after extra time to win the 40th Empress Cup on January 1 – and they never looked back.

That trophy, technically part of their 2018 campaign, was followed by another success over INAC Kobe Leonessa in the Nadeshiko League Cup Final in August, before an unprecedented fifth league title in a row was secured earlier this month.

With the 41st Empress Cup ongoing, Beleza remain on the hunt for a second succussive domestic treble, with the AFC Women’s Club Championship potentially extending their trophy haul even further.

Player to watch: Mina Tanaka (JPN)

No longer a regular member of the national team, Tanaka was not one of the nine Beleza players to represent Japan at the World Cup in June, but her contribution on the domestic scene has been unrivalled.

The 2018 AFC Women’s Asian Cup and Asian Games gold medallist has been the league’s top scorer and winner of the Most Valuable Player award for the past two seasons, scoring more than 20 domestic goals in five successive campaigns as part of an overall haul of more than 150 goals for the club.

Head coach: Masato Nagata (JPN)

An experienced youth coach, Nagata had long spells at the academies of Tokyo Verdy and JEF United before his appointment as Beleza boss in 2018, and the 45-year-old has seldom put a foot wrong since landing the job.

Having won a superb treble last season, and already having claimed two of the three domestic trophies on offer this year, Beleza have strung together an exceptional record, losing only three league matches in the two years since Nagata took charge.


JIANGSU SUNING LADIES FOOTBALL CLUB (CHN)

History

Established in 1998, the Nanjing-based Jiangsu women’s football team enjoyed success under the name Jiangsu Huatai in the late 2000s, while Jiangsu Suning officially became the region’s Chinese Women’s Super League representatives in 2016.

After making noise internationally with the signing of Norwegian international star Isabell Herlovsen in 2017, Jiangsu then hired two-time UEFA Women’s Champions League-winning coach Gérard Precheur, with the Frenchman claiming trophies in two cup competitions in 2018.

2019 so far

Put simply, 2019 has been a year of unprecedented success.

Having taken the coaching reins from his father at the start of the season, Jocelyn Precheur led Jiangsu to a stunning campaign which produced no less than four trophies.

The Women’s Super League crown and all three domestic cup titles made for a historic clean sweep of China PR’s domestic titles, with Jiangsu’s trip to Yongin offering the opportunity to cap their dream year with silverware on the continental stage.

Head coach: Jocelyn Precheur (FRA)

After serving as an assistant to father Gérard at both Olympique Lyonnais and Jiangsu, Prechuer has thrived as head coach, producing a stunning four-trophy haul in his first season in the top job.

Those achievements have received press coverage in his native France, something that is likely to continue if the 38-year-old can follow his father’s European championships with a history-making Asian title.

Player to watch: Tabitha Chawinga (MWI)

Already the captain of Malawi’s national team, 23-year-old Chawinga is a prolific goal scorer and talent of top international quality who has won the Chinese Women’s Super League scoring title for the past two seasons having top-scored in the Swedish top-flight the previous year

The first Malawian player to sign for a European club when she moved to Sweden as a teenager, Chawinga was shortlisted for African Women’s Player of the Year in 2018 and bagged six goals in four matches in her country’s recent Tokyo 2020 qualifying campaign.

Photos: AFC, AFP, W-League

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