Thu, 28 Oct, 2021
Osaka: With the AFC Women’s Olympic Football Tournament Rio 2016 qualifiers kicking off in Japan on Monday, all six coaches are expecting a tough challenge to secure the two automatic qualification places for Brazil later this year.
Asia is widely regarded as one of the strongest confederations in the women’s game, and the fact that three of the nations – Japan, DPR Korea and Australia - competing in Osaka are ranked in FIFA’s top 10, underlines that status.
And the other three, Korea Republic, China and Vietnam, are all inside the top 30.
“I’m sure this will be a high quality tournament and we’re confident that whichever teams manage to qualify will do Asia proud and win a medal later this year,” said Japan coach Norio Sasaki.
Silver medalists in London four years ago, the Nadeshiko get their campaign underway against Australia, the nation they narrowly defeated in the quarter-finals of last year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup.
“We’ve prepared well and specifically targeted the first match because we know this will be critical to our chances of qualification,” added Sasaki, with his side currently ranked first in Asia and fourth in the world.
“Australia are a young nation, but they’re getting stronger and stronger by the year.”
The Matildas have competed in two prior Olympic Games, the 2000 edition they hosted and in Athens four years later, but Australia are aiming for a maiden qualification since their switch to Asia a decade ago.
Australia, though, suffered a blow on the eve of the tournament with midfielder Aivi Luik ruled out through injury.
“We know just how tough this tournament will be, Asia is probably the strongest confederation in the world, but we can take a lot of confidence from our performances in the World Cup,” said Australia coach Alen Stajcic.
“We’ve played Japan three times in the past 18 months and suffered two defeats and we respect everything they’ve done in representing Asia so well, but we’re well prepared and go into this match with no fear.”
China, silver medalists at the first Olympic Games that featured women’s football in 1996, kick-off the tournament against Vietnam at Nagai Stadium.
“This is my first time at this tournament and as far as I’m aware every match counts for three points, so it doesn’t matter whether it’s the first or the final match,” said China’s French coach Bruno Bini.
“If we look at the FIFA rankings we see one thing, but on the field we may see another, and we’re aiming to be one of the two teams that get the ticket to Rio.”
Vietnam have never quailed for the Olympic Games, but earned their place in the final round after emerging from the play-offs to join the five automatic qualifiers.
“In some ways just being here is already a success, but we’ll simply try our best against these wonderful teams from Asia and that starts with a positive performance against China in the first match,” said Vietnam coach Mai Duc Chung.
Finally, DPR Korea, who have qualified for the past two Olympic Games, and Korea Republic square off in the final of the opening day fixtures.
“All the teams here are the strongest in Asia and we want to play to our strengths as a team where the mental state of the players will be critical and play an important role,” said coach Kim Kwang-min.
Korea Republic have also yet to qualify for the Olympic Games ahead of Monday’s opener at Nagai Stadium.
“The first match is the most important and as we haven’t had the best results in the past it’s possible the players are carrying some kind of mental burden, but if we perform to the best of our abilities then perhaps even both nations in this match can qualify for the Olympic Games,” said Korea Republic coach Yoon Duk-yeo.
Photo: Lagardère Sports