Australia, China, Japan, South Korea and Thailand all World Cup bound after successful AFC qualification tournament in Jordan.
Gifted a draw that saw them avoid any of the other big three teams in the confederation, China breezed through the group stage, confirming their berth in France at a canter. Healthy wins over Thailand, the Philippines and Jordan followed as relatively new head coach, Sigurður Ragnar Eyjólfsson was gifted vital time with his team to take the next steps in development for next year’s tournament.
Drawing good crowds but unable to mine a win, Jordan fell to three back-to-back losses, the hosts at least able to score in each of their three group games. Set to battle out for second spot in the group and place in France next year, Thailand and the Philippines went head-to-head in their last group match, Chaba Kaew victorious after 90 minutes.
The nightmare scenario for all involved, AFC big-dogs Australia and Japan were draw against each other with a stubborn South Korea side, Taegeuk Nangja the equaliser in the group. Holding both the Matildas and Nadeshiko scoreless, Korea saw off group whipping boys, Vietnam to claim a second-chance at qualification.
Having put four past Vietnam before being held by Korea, Japan had little wiggle room against Australia in their last group match. A nervy affair for both – with Australia needing anything by a loss to see them through to the semi-finals after surpassing Japan’s goal difference. Mizuho Sakaguchi’s second half goal looking like the winner until Sam Kerr dug out a late equaliser, the score draw enough to see Australia finish top with Japan second.
Not to be hard done by, finishing the group stages with five points – the same tally as both Australia and Japan – South Korea took their second chance to qualify with a stylish win over the Philippines. Ranked 16 in the world, it was a formality for Korea to overcome Malditas, the nation ranked 72 in the FIFA world rankings, the 5-0 scoreline enough to show the gulf in class.
Having looked like one of the strongest nations in the world over the past year, Australia sudden began to shake in the semi finals, up against a stubborn and smart Thai team. A stoppage time equaliser from Alanna Kennedy required for the Matildas to force penalties, Elise Kellond-Knight, Steph Catley and Kerr all clinical from 12 yards, Emily van Egmond and Lisa De Vanna less so. Thailand’s shoot out advantage only holding for one round, Ainon Phancha the only player for Chaba Kaew to get the better of Mackenzie Arnold; Sunisa Srangthaisong, Silawan Intamee and Pitsamai Sornsai all thwarted from the spot. Elsewhere, in the second semi-final, Japan found their style to ease past China, late penalties for both providing a touch of drama, the result already assured.
Falling to a 3-1 loss against Japan, China rallied to it Thailand for the same score and wrap up the bragging rights that go with a third-place finish.
In a historically close fixture, Japan continued to edge Australia, Kumi Yokoyama’s fourth goal of the tournament all to separate the two nations as they sparred at the Amman International Stadium in the grand final.