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Asian Watch: Ueki ruled out, Hwang’s stunning comeback, Sornpao’s delight


Kuala Lumpur: Just six days remain until the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019 kick-off, with Korea Republic taking on France in the tournament’s opening match.

With the curtains ready to be drawn on the biggest stage in women’s football, Asia’s five representatives have all touched down in Europe, where they are adding the final touches to four years of hard work.

In this week’s Asian Watch: A rising Japanese star forced out of the tournament by injury, an inspiring reappearance on the world stage for Korea Republic’s Hwang Bo-ram and Tiffany Darunee Sornpao’s World Cup selection joy.

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Ueki’s dream undone by injury

Rising star Riko Ueki will have to wait until the 2020 Olympics for her chance to represent Japan in a major tournament, after a knee injury saw the FIFA U-20 World Cup-winner ruled out of France 2019 calculations.

Ueki, 19, will be replaced by strike partner Saori Takarada, who scored five goals at the 2017 AFC U-19 Women’s Championship, before repeating the dose on the world stage as Japan became U-20 world champions the following year.

Takarada had been part of Asako Takakura’s training squad throughout the last few weeks, but the Cerezo Osaka forward now has the chance to compete on the senior stage, starting with Japan’s final pre-tournament hit out against Spain on Sunday.


Hwang’s remarkable return to the world stage

 

When Korea Republic’s France 2019 squad was released, many eyes naturally went towards of star names such as Ji So-yun and Cho So-hyun, but the story of defender Hwang Bo-ram’s selection is one of stunning perseverance.

Hwang – a 31-year-old defender who played in the previous World Cup in Canada – returned to the Korean national team in April despite giving birth to her daughter, Bom, last March and only restarting her training nine months ago, vowing to make ‘no excuses’.

Lee Du-hee, Hwang’s husband, told AFP: “I burst into tears when I first heard that Bo-ram made to the national team. I knew how hard she worked despite all the challenges.”

Meanwhile, Korea Republic were somewhat unfortunate to suffer a 1-0 loss to Sweden on Friday; their final match before they take on France in next Friday’s eagerly-awaited tournament opener.


Sornpao celebrates ‘surreal’ call-up

As one of the few teams yet to announce their contingent prior, Thailand had one of the more keenly sought-after collections of names when FIFA officially released the tournament’s final squad lists on Monday, with the inclusion of US-born goalkeeper Tiffany Darunee Sornpao making the most headlines.

The 20-year-old, who only made her debut for Thailand in April’s Cyprus Cup, revealed her delight at making the cut on social media, labelling her France 2019 call-up “surreal’.

Meanwhile, Sunisa Srangthaisong is backing Thailand to bounce back from last weekl’s 3-0 defeat to France with an improved performance against Belgium on Saturday, telling The Nation newspaper “I feel we can play them well and even beat them”.

Thailand will play a final, unofficial friendly against Belgian club side Kontich FC on Tuesday before facing the United States in their World Cup opener a week later.


Matildas bring fans onto the training pitch

Australia gave fans a close-up taste of what it’s like to prepare for a World Cup this week, capturing the intensity of the Matildas’ pre-tournament training camp in Turkey by attaching microphones to several of their coaching staff.

Gary van Egmond, John Gorza and Ivan Jolic were all featured in the video, with Jolic’s reminder that “if you need more than two (touches), something’s not right” perhaps giving an indication regarding the Matildas approach in France.

Earlier in the week, Australia had an unofficial hit out against the title-winning youth team of Izmir-based club Altinordu FK.

The Matildas will meet European champions Netherlands in their final pre-tournament friendly on Saturday, with 30,000 fans expected at PSV Eindhoven’s Phillips Stadion.


Steel Roses push France in final friendly

China PR’s week began with the final announcement of their France 2019 squad and ended with what may be considered an encouraging defeat to the tournament’s hosts.

The Steel Roses showed glimpses of what they are capable of in their final pre-tournament fixture on Friday - as Wang Shuang emerged from the bench to brilliantly tee up Wang Shanshan for a superb equalising goal – before falling to a 2-1 loss against a side many consider tournament favourites.

China PR’s opening World Cup match pits them against two-time champions Germany, whose head coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg appears unlikely to take anything for granted in the tournament after telling German outlet ARD “I think there will be some upsets in the group stage,” on Friday.

Photo: AFP

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