Australia will begin the defence of their AFC Women’s Asian Cup title next year against FIFA World Cup winners Japan following Friday’s draw in Ho Chi Minh City.
The Matildas, who won the continental crown for the first time in 2010 after edging out DPR Korea on penalties following a 1-1 draw, will be joined in Group A by hosts Vietnam and tournament debutants Jordan.
Eight-time champions China, Korea Republic, Thailand and Myanmar will make up Group B for the tournament which takes place in May next year, with the top five teams earning qualification for the 2015 FIFA World Cup in Canada.
“I think the two groups are very equal so I am very happy to have Japan in the group,” said former Netherlands international Hesterine de Reus, who replaced 2010 AFC Women’s Asian Cup winner Tom Sermanni as Australia coach at the start of the year.
“I am happy with the change in the draw mechanism to have the four big countries put into the two groups so I am looking forward to a very competitive competition and we are eager to qualify for the World Cup.
“I worked in Jordan before I took this job, as I was the coach of the women’s national team, so I know Jordan a bit. We watched all the teams at a tournament in Myanmar in September, and there are still six months to go to get information about our opponents, so I think everything is well organised and planned.”
Despite winning the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup, Japan have never won the AFC Women’s Asian Cup having lost to Australia in the semi-finals in 2010 before their historic triumph in Germany a year later.
Hosts Vietnam are seeking a maiden appearance in the knockout stage, while Jordan are the first-ever West Asian nation to qualify for the finals.
China won the last of their eight titles in 2006 having also reached the semi-finals on home soil in 2010, with Korea Republic last reaching the final four in 2003.
Thailand won the title in 1983, but are seeking a first appearance in the knockout stage since finishing third in 1986, while Myanmar have yet to progress beyond the group stage.
“This is our showpiece tournament for women’s football in Asia and it has produced great excitement in the past and I am sure it will again in Ho Chi Minh City next May,” said AFC Women’s Committee Chairwomen and AFC Vice-President Moya Dodd.
“We have traditional powerhouse nations: Japan are current world champions, Australia are the current Asian champions, and Korea Republic and China have also been very strong. There are also some rapidly improving teams, especially in the ASEAN region as Vietnam are a strength now as well as Thailand and Myanmar, and for the first time ever we have a team from West Asia competing in the AFC Women’s Asian Cup finals and that is the team from Jordan which is an achievement in itself for those players to be competing at this competition next year.
“The last time this tournament was played the final went to penalties and Australia won 5-4, and that is how competitive and tense women’s football is in Asia. The team that won the World Cup a year later didn’t even contest the final, they came third in the last edition and just a year later they won the FIFA Women’s World Cup. That shows how competitive the competition is; that every team has a chance.”
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