Road to 2015: Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam advance to AFC Women's Asian Cup

Closest thing to a picture of AFC soccer, a congress! - Stanley Chou

Three of the four Qualification groups for the 2014 AFC Women's Asian Cup are concluded with Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam moving on to next spring's final round and keeping their dreams of reaching the 2015 World Cup in Canada alive.

Seven of the eight teams that will compete in the 2014 AFC Asian Women's Cup have now been determined. The final place will be decided by June 9th when the final qualification group wraps up in Jordan. With Australia, China, Japan, and South Korea all qualifying for the final stage directly it left four places up for grabs through the qualification process and over the past week three of those places were wrapped up.

The top four AFC squads will be joined next spring by Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam in an eight team tournament that will determine not only the Asian Champions but also which five countries will be representing the federation at the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup in Canada.

With North Korea out of the running for the World Cup as a result of a number of failed drug tests at the previous Women's World Cup in 2011 combined with the expanded field for 2015 it opens the door for a new face to qualify for the World Cup for the first time.

The Asian Federation will have five slots for the 2015 World Cup which is up from the 3 that they held under the old format. When the federation had just 3 slots it meant that only a select few countries got the chance to compete at a World Cup with Japan, China, South Korea, Australia, North Korea, and Chinese Taipei being the only countries to do so. With five slots this time around and North Korea's ban it meant there was a very good chance that a country for the AFC would be heading to the World Cup for the first time. Following the results of last week that is now assured as Chinese Taipei failed to win their group and are now out of the running.

Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam will all be hoping that in 2014 they can claim their first World Cup appearance. All three nations are in the top 50 in the FIFA rankings and can be considered squads on the rise but will still have a lot of work to do over the next year to ensure they are ready to compete with the stronger teams in the AFC.

Thailand advanced out of Group B in qualification but were made to work hard for top spot in the group thanks to a resilient effort from the Philippines. Both squads opened the group with lopsided wins as Thailand defeated Bangladesh 9-0 and the Philippines claimed a 6-0 win over Iran. They met on the second match day of the group in what proved to be a tight match as the top seeded Thailand side eked out a 1-0 win thanks to a Nisa Romyen goal in the 37th minute. The Philippines would come close to leveling the score in the second half but had a goal ruled out and had to settle for a close defeat. With top spot in the group still on the line for the final day of matches Thailand went out and beat Iran 5-1 to ensure that the Philippines 4-0 win over Bangladesh did not matter.

The results mean that Bangladesh, Iran, and the Philippines are all out of World Cup qualification while Thailand is moving on to the next round. Thailand were the top ranked side coming into the group and were considered to be the favorites but despite dominating both Iran and Bangladesh they really did need to be at their best to take top spot in the group ahead of a rapidly improving Philippines squad. When it mattered though Thailand were just too strong as they showed by scoring 5 goals in the second half against Iran to wrap up top spot in the group.

In Group C things were not quite so close as Vietnam proved to be the class of the field. They won 8-0 over Bahrain on the opening day, 12-0 over Kyrgyzstan, and wrapped up the group with a 4-0 win over Hong Kong on the final day. Vietnam scored a total of 24 goals and were led by Minh Nguyệt with five goals and Thị Muôn with 4. Hong Kong would finish the group in second place thanks to a 2-1 win over Kyrgyzstan and 3-1 win over Bahrain but the difference in class was evident in that final match which they lost 4-0 to Vietnam with top spot in the group on the line.

Vietnam rolled to that 4-0 win over Hong Kong thanks to scoring a pair of goal in the opening 10 minutes and adding a third before the break. By the time the match reached the half-time whistle they were already home and dry proving again that they are one of the top sides in the AFC when they get rolling. With Vietnam winning the group Hong Kong, Bahrain, and Kyrgyzstan have all been eliminated from World Cup qualification.

Group D proved to be the closest of the bunch as there was hardly anything to separate Myanmar and Chinese Taipei. The two sides both opened the group with a pair of wins as Myanmar defeated India 2-0 and Palestine 9-0 while Chinese Taipei beat Palestine 6-0 and India 2-1. With Myanmar claiming larger wins against both nations it meant that Chinese Taipei went into the final game needing to win while Myanmar could advance with just a draw.

With top spot on the line the two teams battled to a 0-0 draw with neither side being able to find the breakthrough. The result was just fine for Myanmar though as their +11 goal difference was enough to claim top spot ahead of Chinese Taipei who only managed a +7 goal difference. Palestine and India would meet on the final day as well to sort out third and fourth place with that match ending in a 1-1 draw it meant India would finish third off of goal difference as they should well to keep all three matches close.

The results of the past week saw three teams move one step closer to making their World Cup dreams a reality but for nine other countries it was the end of the road for another cycle. Philippines, Iran, Bangladesh, Hong Kong, Bahrain, Kyrgyzstan, Chinese Taipei, India, and Palestine are all out of the running for World Cup 2015 in Canada now while Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam are alive for at least one more year.

The final group, Group A, gets underway on June 5th and runs until the 9th and Uzbekistan, Jordan, Kuwait, and Lebanon will compete for the final spot in the eight team AFC Women's Asian Cup. Once that group is concluded the AFC qualification process will be done until May 14, 2014 when the final round is set to take place.

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