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In 2022, all continents will choose their champions

This is an unexpected effect of the health situation on the international women’s football calendar. All continental competitions will take place in 2022, a year before the 2023 World Cup which will take place in Australia and New Zealand. This alignment of the planets is notably due to the postponement of the Euro, shifted from 2021 to the summer of 2022.

While the best European teams will compete for the title in England next July, the African Cup of Nations will take place in parallel in Morocco, the Copa America in Colombia, the CONCACAF Cup (Central, North and Caribbean) in Mexico. The Oceania Cup of Nations will also take place next July.

Honor to Asia

Asia stands out with a continental competition which begins this Thursday, January 20 in India, and will conclude on February 6 in Navi Mumbai (New Bombay). This Asian Cup of Nations brings together the 12 best teams of the moment in Asia, including Australia, which has been part of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) for fifteen years.

Four years after the victory of the Japanese Nadeshiko in Jordan, the competition has therefore been expanded, from eight to twelve teams in the final phase. An expansion which is also reflected in the number of selections that participated in the qualifications for this Asian Cup of Nations.

A total of 24 teams took part in the elimination phase, adding the four directly qualified teams (India, Japan, Australia, China). A figure on the rise despite the withdrawals of several selections, first justified by health reasons (North Korea, Iraq or Turkmenistan) but also with the particular situation of Afghanistan. The return of the Taliban to power last August caused a large number of Afghan internationals to flee abroad.

This growing figure, however, remains to be put into perspective in a confederation which has 47 members, and therefore 19 countries which did not take part in the field in this 2022 edition of the Asian Cup.

New ambitions for Indian football

The organization of this Asian Cup by India is also not a trivial detail. In a country where cricket remains the king sport, football has seen renewed interest in recent years, with the creation of new professional competitions for men (Indian Super League), then for women (Indian Women League) in from 2017.

This has also translated into a desire to host major international competitions, starting with the U17 World Cup for boys in 2017. The U17 Women’s World Cup is scheduled for the autumn in India. It has already been postponed several times due to the health situation, after having been initially scheduled for 2020.

In the Asian Cup of Nations, the organization of the competition allows Indian players to appear in the final phase for the first time since 2003, after having been finalists in the event in the more distant past (in particular in 1980, when India hosted the competition for the first time).

Iran, newcomer to the finals

Another symbol of this enlargement, the presence of the Iranian selection, qualified for its first continental final phase. A participation that takes place in a country where the place of women in the world of football and sport in general remains a sensitive subject. Evidenced by the fight in Iran to allow women to be able to attend men’s competitions, especially for football matches. This remains an exception today, with several tragedies that have given international visibility to this situation.

Iran’s presence comes as another country in the region, Saudi Arabia, has only just set up its national team. A year after launching a national championship in the kingdom, the Saudi selection had its first training sessions in the fall of 2021, and now hopes to play its first official match in the coming weeks.

With Muslim countries overrepresented among the nations that did not take part in this 2022 Asian Cup, Indonesia’s qualification is also a positive signal, returning to the finals more than thirty years after its last participation in 1989. .

An Asian continent which therefore remains to be conquered for women’s football, while the AFC is also trying to gradually set up a Champions League in Asia. An initiative partially delayed by the pandemic context, with the first continental competitions which only brought together a limited number of clubs during the first two editions.

The ideal launching pad for Australia?

In sporting terms, the stakes are twofold between a continental title to be won, and six qualifying places for the 2023 World Cup. Co-organizer of the 2023 World Cup, Australia is automatically awarded one of these six tickets, while an additional Asian team will have the opportunity to qualify for the next World Cup.

Behind the regulars, such as China, Japan, South Korea and even Thailand present at the last two World Cups, other teams will therefore have the opportunity to be part of the 32 selections selected for the 2023 World Cup.

For the final title, Australia and Japan appear as the main favorites. The two teams have shared the last three trophies in the competition, with Japan winning the last two Asian Cup finals (2014 and 2018) against Australia’s Matildas.

This year, however, the advantage seems to be in favor of Australia, after their semi-final at the last Tokyo Olympics, the best performance of the Matildas to date in an international tournament. At home, the results were more disappointing for Japan, released in the quarter by Sweden, leading in particular to the departure of Asako Takakura, the coach of Nadeshiko, sacked at the end of the Olympic tournament.

A prestige to regain

Australia’s rise comes amid more disappointing results for Asian national teams in recent major tournaments, including the 2019 World Cup. for European teams, how will the situation evolve between now and July 2023?

A competition to follow, while it will also have an impact in Europe, among the clubs which have international players involved in the tournament. This is particularly the case for Arsenal in England, which sees the departure of three Australian players (Lydia Williams, Steph Catley and Caitlin Foord) as well as its Japanese striker Mana Iwabuchi.

In D1, Olympique Lyonnais will do without Ellie Carpenter, while Montpellier loses Mary Fowler for a few weeks, the two players selected by Tony Gustavsson with the Australian team. The English championship remains the most impacted on the continent, with 16 players selected for this Asian Cup of Nations.

The competition is now ready to start with a first group stage, and selections divided into three pools of four teams. The first two of each group and the two best third will then meet in the quarter-finals, according to a format reminiscent of that of the Olympic tournament.

Asian Cup of Nations 2022 (January 20 to February 6) – The tournament table

Group A : India (host country), China, Taiwan, Iran

Group B : Australia, Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia

Group C : Japan (title holder), South Korea, Vietnam, Burma (Myanmar).

Final on February 6 at Navi Mumbai (New Bombay)

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