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France 2019 : Asia’s experts predict

Kuala Lumpur: After four years of waiting, the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019 finally begins on Friday with an eagerly-anticipated opening match between the host nation and Korea Republic at the famous Parc des Princes in Paris.

Ahead of the tournament, enlisted five women’s football experts – one from each Asian nation competing in France – to tell us what to expect in the biggest women’s football tournament on the planet.

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Meet the Panel

Pu Wei (China PR)
Pu Wei is a name etched into the history of the Chinese women’s national team. She represented the Steel Roses at three World Cups and three Olympic Games on the way to 219 international appearances - the most of any Chinese player

Teo Pellizzeri (Australia)
A respected voice in the Australian game, Teo served as the main commentator for the Australian broadcasts of tournaments such as the AFC Women’s Asian Cup Jordan 2018 and is regularly heard on Fox Sports Australia’s coverage of W-League and A-League matches.

Nongyao Wongkasemsak (Thailand)
A Chaba Kaew legend from her glittering playing career in the 1980s and 90s, Nongyao was part of the Thailand squad which became Asian champions at the 1983 AFC Women’s Asian Cup in Bangkok.

Kim Sung-jin (Korea Republic)
Sung-jin is a Korean sports journalist and editor-in-chief of Sportal Korea, one of the country’s most popular sports media outlets.

Akira Nishimori (Japan)
A highly experienced journalist, Akira has spent years covering the Japanese women’s game at club, youth and senior international levels.

Q1: What would you consider a successful result for your country in the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019?

Teo Pellizzeri (AUS): Making the semi-finals as Australia's first FIFA World Cup team, men's or women's, to win two knockout games would mean success for Australia. A quarter-final exit is par, anything earlier - even if the Round of 16 draw is unkind and sees Australia play a higher seed - would be regression.

Pu Wei (CHN): I think if we can play in our style and not be afraid of any opponent, I would say that is successful. Currently, there are a few 90s players in the team, and they will make a new era, this means they will have to show their own definition of Steel Roses. The result of the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2019 would play a key role in the development of women’s football in China.

Nongyao Wongkasemsak (THA): I hope our country will have the faith to be successful in confronting the USA, Sweden, and Chile. There is always a chance for a small country like us to be in the Round of 16, if the players trust one another.

Kim Sung-jin (KOR): if we don't get through this in the match against these strong two European teams, it won't be easy to make it to the Round of 16. Also, two veteran goalkeepers were sidelined this time due to injuries. How we make this up will be a huge factor, which will determine the overall success.

Akira Nishimori (JPN): A successful result would be the Japanese team playing attractive football and being recognised by fans around the world.

Q2: Who is the most important player in your national team, and why?

KS (KOR): Ji So-yun. Every player participating on the stage of World Cup is aware of her. It is no exaggeration to say that she has a world-class talent in terms of shooting, dribbling and passing. She is considered an ace player in Chelsea’s women's team and has long been a dominant player in the English league. Ji's presence alone has changed the overall performance of Korean players.

AN (JPN): Mana Iwabuchi, a forward, has a wealth of experience since her teens and is an example for the younger players. She contributed strongly to the 2018 AFC Women’s Asian Cup victory with her great play. An excellent striker, but she can also create chances depending on the situation.

TP (AUS): Centre-back Clare Polkinghorne. The leadership and composure of former captain "Polks" is as vital as the fearless defending she provides. In the pressure-cooker environment of a major tournament, the presence and poise of Polkinghorne is irreplaceable.

NW (THA): It is not easy to choose the key player in the team because everybody is important, but I believe Suchawadee Nildhamrong will help the team a lot with her physical strength and experience in the USA.

PW (CHN): There were a few players who played with me before in the team. I knew them quite well, but I will focus more on the players who are very young and the first time to participate in the tournament.

Q3: Which young player from your country will announce themselves on the world stage, and why?

AN (JPN): Hina Sugita (pictured above). A midfielder who controls the game and sees the entire pitch, and a leader of the game in the style that Aya Miyama and Mizuho Sakaguchi have been until now. She was the winner of the Golden Ball in the 2014 U-17 Women’s World Cup and 2016 U-20 Women’s World Cup.

TP (AUS): Given 19-year-old full-back Ellie Carpenter is already established playing professionally in America and with 32 caps, it leaves 16-year-old forward Mary Fowler as the only and obvious choice as Australia's break-out candidate.

KS (KOR): Jang Sel-gi, born in 1994, is a rising star of the team. She was awarded Player of the Year by the KFA last year. She is also a versatile who can play wide in either defence or offence.

NW (THA): Saowalak Pengngam, a 22-year-old player from Chonburi Football Club, has a great playing technique, but she might not have much chance to be on the field.

PW (CHN): I expect the young players might be the game makers. Nowadays, with the development of football, these girls can have a longer football career, this will help them to increase their career value.

Q4: Beyond your country, how do you think the Asian teams will perform in France?

PW (CHN): I was the host of the group draw, so I would say it could be a tough time for the Asian teams. For example, Korea Republic were drawn with France and Thailand were drawn with the US. We all have a very huge challenge in this tournament.

NW (THA): I personally think every Asian team in this tournament has potential to go through the next round, especially Japan who were winners in 2011 and went to the final in 2015. They develop women's football in younger age groups and that builds a strong core for the senior team.

KS (KOR): Currently, the level of Asian women's football is considered fairly high and comparable to the world class sides. However, other Asian teams, except Japan, clearly have some weak points compared to top-class teams in the U.S. and Europe. In particular, the huge difference in physical abilities. I think the success of the Asian teams will depend on how this gap is made up.

TP (AUS): Korea might be able to advance from third in their group with a damage-limitation approach, something the team is more than capable of. China got the group of death and may also be relying on advancing from third. Japan should bank six points minimum in the group stage and set themselves for the challenge of the other powerhouses in the knock-out rounds. Thailand's porous defence leaves little room for optimism.

AN (JPN): As with Japan, Australia promise to advance from the group stage. They have talented players with strong experience, including Samantha Kerr, so they can expect to reach the last eight or better. The other Asian teams are drawn with Western powers and are considered the third of fourth best in their group, but we have played against them before and I know they have the potential to reach the second round.

Q5: What are you most looking forward to about the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019?

NW (THA): Apart from the friendship during the tournament, we will be seeing women working in football industry along with men. It is a dimension that will help develop and open women's football even wider.

AN (JPN): Japan, the rise of Asia, and excitement of the entire tournament in France. It will be the time to recognise that women’s football is an attractive sport for spectators just like men’s football.

PW (CHN): Personally, I hope (the Chinese team) can finish our dream, from back in 1999, to hold the trophy on the highest stage. Even I know it is very hard to reach that level now, but this is really my personal expectation.

KS (KOR): This FIFA Women’s World Cup will be virtually the last stage for the players born between 1988-1991, who are called (Korea Republic’s) 'golden generation'. In 2015, the team made it to the Round of 16. I wonder how they can get out from the competitive group stage and if their final results would be better than four years ago.

TP (AUS): The complete unpredictability of what the road to the final could look like, particularly if any of the strong teams end up third in their group.

Photos: AFP, AFC

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