In review: A transformative decade of Asian women’s football

Monday, December 30, 2019

Kuala Lumpur: It was the decade in which Asia delivered, as the teams from the Continent experienced world-conquering success at all levels of the women’s game.

Japan became Asia’s first senior world champions at the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup, while Asian teams claimed a further five global titles at youth level as the world’s most populous continent played a key role in the women’s game’s global growth.

With 2020 fast approaching, join as we look back on some of the key achievements, ground-breaking milestones and world-beating stars of a remarkable decade in the history of Asian women’s football.

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Japan create history, Asia conquers the world

Unprecedented and yet to be repeated, Japan’s FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011 triumph stands as Asia’s defining football achievement of the 2010s.

With just three wins and one quarter-final appearance to show from their five previous trips to the global Finals, the Nadeshiko stunned the world to become Asia’s breakthrough world champions, outlasting the United States on penalties in a thrilling final in Frankfurt.

Led by their inspirational captain Homare Sawa and head coach Norio Sasaki, Japan finished second in a group featuring England, Mexico and New Zealand, before embarking a string of epic knockout stage wins against some of the game’s global superpowers.

An extra-time 1-0 win against tournament host and European champions Germany was followed by an emphatic 3-1 semi-final success over Sweden, but it was the decider against the world number one Americans which delivered Japan’s pièce de résistance.

Twice the Nadeshiko fell behind, and twice they showed immense resilience to draw level, first through Aya Miyama’s tenacious 80th-minute equaliser, then via Sawa’s brilliant outside-of-the-boot volley, which made it 2-2 with just three minutes remaining in extra-time.

From there, Sasaki’s charges showed nerves of steel to prevail in the penalty shootout, with 20-year-old defender Saki Kumagai slamming home the winning kick to lift the spirits of a nation still mourning a devastating earthquake and tsunami four months prior.

Japan went on to reach the 2012 Olympics gold medal match as well as the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup final but there would be no repeat of the euphoria of the 2011 Nadeshiko’s extraordinary triumph, with both matches ending in defeat to the Americans.

While no Asian side since has matched Japan’s achievement at senior level, Sawa and company’s feat in Germany was far from the continent’s only global success in the 2010s.

Five Asian teams won world women’s youth titles in the decade, starting with Korea Republic’s U-17 title in 2010, with Japan winning the same competition in Costa Rica four years later.

DPR Korea held both the U-17 and U-20 FIFA Women’s World Cups after a sensational 2016, while Japan became the first nation to win women’s world titles at all age levels when they surged to the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup title in France in 2018.

World class competitions and players

Japan’s World Cup victory was the ultimate realisation of Asia’s potential in the women’s game, but it was just one example of the depth of talent to be found in the world’s most populous continent.

The 2010s saw three high-quality editions of the AFC Women’s Asian Cup, including the first to be held in West Asia in 2018, as well as the emergence of a new generation of world class players.

The AFC Women’s Asian Cup China 2010 not only produced Australia’s breakthrough Asian title, but it also served as Asia’s introduction to a teenage forward who would finish the decade as a global icon of women’s football.

Sam Kerr was just 16 years old when she scored against DPR Korea in the 2010 final – which the Matildas ultimately won on penalties after a 1-1 draw – and she would go on to dominate for club and country, particularly from 2016 onwards, where her exploits made her a household name across multiple continents prior to her much-publicised signing with Chelsea in the final weeks of the 2010s.

Australia also reached the final of the 2014 AFC Women’s Asian Cup in Vietnam and the 2018 edition in Jordan, only to lose 1-0 to Japan on both occasions.

While built on an ethos of teamwork and bravery on the ball, Japan’s decade of major tournament success was powered by a number of outstanding individual players.

Beyond the mercurial Sawa – who was voted FIFA World Player of the Year in 2011 – Aya Miyama, Mana Iwabuchi and Saki Kumagai all established themselves as world class footballers, with Kumagai becoming the first Asian player to win four UEFA Women’s Champions League titles for Olympique Lyonnais.

Korea Republic’s Ji So-yun also enjoyed a marvellous decade, winning eight trophies with Japan’s INAC Kobe Leonessa before claiming five more with English powerhouse Chelsea, while China PR’s 2018 AFC Women’s Player of the Year Wang Shuang made history by joining French giants Paris Saint-Germain.

In the coaching ranks, Japan’s Asako Takakura set a remarkable record of seven AFC Female Coach of the Year Awards, winning the 2014 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup, before becoming the Japan’s first female senior coach and winning the 2018 AFC Women’s Asian Cup after replacing the legendary Sasaki in 2016.

New frontiers: A decade of growth and inclusion

The 2018 AFC Women’s Asian Cup in Jordan marked a significant milestone in the expansion of women’s football beyond the traditional Asian powers.

After 18 editions in East or South Asia, Jordan became the first West Asian nation and first Arab nation to play host to the continent’s biggest women’s football competition, having previously welcomed the world for the 2016 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup.

Jordan’s exemplary hosting of Asia’s top sides, as well a significant on-field improvement which saw them feature in the final two of three Women’s Asian Cups staged in the 2010s, served as a fitting finale to a decade which saw huge growth in the depth of the women’s game.

While the 2010 AFC Women’s Asian Cup qualifying stage featured just 12 teams, that number had ballooned to 21 by 2018, and the future looks even brighter, with a total 32 nations participating in the 2019 AFC U-16 Women’s Championship and regional championships now established in every corner of the continent.

The increase in female representation also extended to futsal, with an inaugural AFC Women’s Futsal Championship successfully staged in Malaysia in 2015, before Thailand played host to the second edition three years later.

An outstanding Islamic Republic of Iran team beat Japan in the final on both occasions, with the dazzling talent of Fereshteh Karimi winning her two MVP titles, as well as admirers throughout Asia and beyond.

A bright future: The decade to come

One of the final milestones achieved in Asian women’s football in the 2010s could prove to be one of the biggest game-changers of the 2020s, with the inaugural AFC Women’s Club Championship set to create a new pinnacle of the women’s club game.

The FIFA-AFC Pilot Tournament – won by Japan’s Nippon TV Beleza in Korea Republic in November 2019 - was the first step towards what could become a regular fixture on the Asian football calendar, bringing Asia’s top clubs together in competitive action and broadening the women’s game’s possibilities both on and off the pitch.

Champions of Asia! – Nippon TV Beleza lift the AFC Women’s Club Championship trophy.

While the club game is set for an exciting future, Asia’s flagship national team competition can also look forward to a bold new era, with the AFC Women’s Asian Cup to expand to 12 teams in 2022.

That competition is set to be one of several major women’s competitions to be staged in Asia in the 2020s, which will kick off with 12 of the world’s best teams battling for gold at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics in July, before India hosts the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in November.

🏆 The #FIFAWWC 2023 has reached an important milestone, with these member associations submitting bids to host the tournament:

🇦🇺🤝🇳🇿 Australia & New Zealand (joint submission)
🇧🇷 Brazil
🇨🇴 Colombia
🇯🇵 Japan

Find details on each bid and more here 👇

— FIFA Women's World Cup (@FIFAWWC) December 13, 2019

The 2020s could also see a return of the FIFA Women’s World Cup, with both Japan and Australia in the running to host the 2023 Finals.

With unprecedented on-field success, a legion of world class players, a vast increase in participation throughout the continent and several more exciting developments on the cards in the near future, the 2010s truly were 10 transformative years for women’s football in Asia.

Photos: AFP, FIFA via Getty Images, AFC

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