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Olympic hopefuls chase Tokyo dream

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Kuala Lumpur: With the prospect of appearing at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games foremost in their minds, 12 teams will fight to stay in the qualification race in this week's Second Round of the AFC Women's Olympic Football Tournament Qualifiers.

With Uzbekistan, Myanmar and Qatar playing host, the Tokyo 2020 dream will become a step closer to reality for the three group winners, who will join Asia's women's football heavyweights in the last eight, as the Continent's national teams fight for two places in the Games, alongside hosts Japan.

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Myanmar (host), India, Indonesia, Nepal

In a group which bears a striking similarity to the opening round's Group C, Myanmar will against play host to India and Nepal, while Indonesia have also made the trip to Mandalay.

The hosts - who have been consistently competitive at a regional level, and were only one match away from qualifying for the 2018 AFC Women's Asian Cup - are expected to be strong on home soil, but they only managed a draw with Nepal, and needed a late winner to see off India last November.

India and Nepal also met less than two weeks ago, in the SAFF Women's Championship Final, with Maymol Rocky's Indian side winning 3-1 to seal their fifth successive regional title.

Indonesia had gone seven years without a win before last year's home Asian Games, but they underlined their recent progress to reach the second round of Olympic Qualifiers thanks to four points from three matches in the opening stage in Palestine.


Vietnam, Jordan, Hong Kong, Uzbekistan (host)

Ranked 35th in the world by FIFA, and having appeared in the final stage of qualifying for the 2016 Olympics, Vietnam's pedigree puts them among the favourites to win the group, but they haven't been in competitive action since the Asian Games last August.

By contrast, Jordan have already played in two tournaments this year - and won the WAFF Women's Championship in January - while Hong Kong have played six matches since the Asian Games, earning wins over Lebanon and Mongolia.

Central Asian champions last December, Uzbekistan impressed with a fourth-place finish in the Turkish Women's Cup last month, with many of Bahrom Norsafarov's squad having graduated from national youth teams under the 53-year-old boss.

On home soil, they now have the chance to reach the last eight on Asia's road to the Finals, but they will need to overcome two of the eight sides which appeared in last year's AFC Women's Asian Cup to do so.


Chinese Taipei, Islamic Republic of Iran, Philippines, Palestine (hosted in Qatar)

Chinese Taipei powered through the opening round of qualifiers, racking up 33 goals in four games - 16 of which were provided by either Yu Hsiu-chin or Michelle Pao - including a 5-0 win over the Philippines, who finished sixth in the 2018 AFC Women's Asian Cup in Jordan just under a year ago, and who they will meet again this week.

That form carried on from Chinese Taipei's excellent showing to reach the semi-finals at the 2018 Asian Games, and marks them as the favourites to progress from Group C.

While the Philippines squad bears little resemblance to the one they took to Jordan last April, many of those who have made the trip to Qatar can look to their experience in successful qualifying campaigns - particularly those far from home - in recent years.

Islamic Republic of Iran impressed with a second place finish in the CAFA Women's Championship last November, while Palestine picked up results against both Indonesia and Maldives to reach this stage.

The group winners from this stage of qualification will advance to the third round of qualifying, where they will be joined by Continental heavyweights Australia, China PR, Korea Republic, Thailand and DPR Korea.

Japan's status as 2020 Olympics hosts means the Nadeshiko have already secured qualification for the Games, leaving just two vacant spots for Asian teams.

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