HONG KONG (Reuters) - Success on two fronts will be the aim when Australia begin their Women’s Asian Cup campaign in Jordan on Friday as they look to claim the title and give themselves an easier ride at next year’s World Cup.
Alen Stajcic’s team were runners-up to Japan four years ago in Vietnam and that second-placed finish meant they were unseeded at the Women’s World Cup a year later, which made life more difficult for them at the tournament.
The Women’s Asian Cup acts as the continent’s final qualifying competition for the global event and Australia goalkeeper Lydia Williams believes winning the title in the Middle East will be doubly significant.
“We’ve had a lot of success over the last few years,” said Williams, who will be appearing at her third Asian Cup for Australia.
“It was heartbreaking to lose to Japan. We really wanted that top spot. We got put in the group of death at the World Cup and didn’t get seeded, so we’re definitely going out at this tournament hoping to win it.”
Eight nations will compete for the title, with the finals being held in the Middle East for the first time after a concerted effort by Jordan Football Association President Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein to grow the women’s game in the socially conservative region.
Historically east Asian nations have dominated women’s football in Asia, with China winning the title in eight of the 18 previous editions.
Japan also captured the Women’s World Cup in 2011 and reached the final in 2015 having claimed their first Women’s Asian Cup a year earlier.
Australia won their first - and so far only - Women’s Asian Cup in 2010 but are the favourites for this year’s title after an impressive run that has seen Stajcic’s side win last year’s high-profile Tournament of Nations and finish third at the prestigious Algarve Cup.
That run of form also saw striker Sam Kerr spring to international prominence before being named the Asian Football Confederation Women’s Player of the Year for 2017.
Australia kick off their campaign against South Korea before also taking on Japan and Vietnam in Group B while Group A contains hosts Jordan, China, Thailand and the Philippines.
Five of the eight teams will qualify for the Women’s World Cup in France next year, with the top two sides in each of the two groups of four advancing.
A playoff will be contested between the countries finishing in third place in their respective groups to decide the fifth spot.
The final will be held on April 20 at Amman International Stadium.
“It’s going to be difficult, a lot of teams in women’s football have really stepped up their game and in the past year or so any team can beat anyone on any given day,” said Williams.
“So this competition is really going to set us up hopefully for the win, but also for the World Cup too. We have to approach every game on its merits and it’s nice to touch down and feel like it’s the Asian Cup.”
Reporting by Michael Church, Editing by Toby Davis