The 12 teams at the 20th edition of the AFC Women’s Asian Cup, to be hosted in India, have been divided into three groups. Group A includes India, China PR, Chinese Taipei, and IR Iran while Group B includes Australia, Thailand, Philippines, and Indonesia. Meanwhile, Japan, Korea Republic, Vietnam, and Myanmar have been slotted in Group C.

via AFC

India vs Iran Preview

A Fifa Women’s World Cup play-offs spot within their grasp, hosts India would seek a winning start against lower-ranked Iran in their AFC Women’s Asian Cup campaign opener in Navi Mumbai on Thursday.

Hosting the continental showpiece for the second time after 1979, India would look to script history by qualifying for the quarterfinals of the 12-team tournament, which will see some of Asia’s and world’s best players in action.

India have finished runners-up twice – in 1979 and 1983 – and third in 1981.

A win against Iran at the DY Patil Stadium will help India get a third-place finish at the least in Group A. Besides the two top teams, two third-placed sides across the three groups will also qualify for the quarterfinals.

Iran are the lowest-ranked team in the group which also has China and Chinese Taipei, who are the favoured duo to progress as the top two.

Iran are ranked at 70th in the world as against India’s 55th.

The Indian team have had some exposure tours and international matches last year, including against former World Cup runners-up side Brazil. This international match experience is expected to keep Thomas Dennerby’s team in good stead even though the hosts are playing without star striker Bala Devi who is still recovering from surgery.

On the other hand, debutants Iran, who began their journey in international football only in 2005, have not played any international match in the last six months.

Dennerby understands the importance of Thursday’s match in the home side’s bid for a knock-out berth.

“Our first target is to get to quarterfinals, we have a realistic chance to do that. Anything can happen from there on,” the experienced Swede said.

“They (Iran) have a strong defence and it’s going to be a challenge for us to score. It’s not going to be an easy game. We are hoping that with some creative and good passing game, we can break down their defence,” he added.

“We have players who can create chances and score goals. We have to be good all through the match.”

Iran will be playing in their maiden AFC Asian Cup after defeating Jordan in a penalty shoot-out in the qualifying round.

“We have analyzed the Indian team, and are aware that they are strong and fast. Despite our lack of experience, we are motivated. We have reached this level and we are ready,” Iran head coach Maryam Irandoost said.

Besides Behnaz Taherkhani and forward Sara Ghomi, their most experienced player, 22-year-old striker Hajar Dabbaghi, will be the player to watch.

For India, the experienced Aditi Chauhan is expected to don the goalkeeper’s gloves while captain Ashalata Devi will marshal the deep defence.

The seasoned Kamala Devi, Indumathi Kathiresan and Anju Tamang will man the midfield, while Manisha Kalyan, who scored India’s lone goal against Brazil recently, can be India’s trump card.
India have played just three times against Iran in the past and have won twice – 3-1 in 2007 and 1-0 in 2019. The other match was won by Iran 4-1 in the second leg of AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers in 2007.
Eight-time champions China face Chinese Taipei in the tournament opener at Mumbai Football Arena earlier in the day.

Australia captain Sam Kerr, who finished runner-up in this year’s Ballon d’Or and FIFA Best Player Award, will easily be the star attraction as the Chelsea player seeks to lead her country to the second title after the 2010 triumph.

World Cup qualification at stake

The tournament also doubles up as a World Cup qualifier and this is where things get really interesting.

All the semifinalists will directly qualify for the 2023 FIFA World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

Two more teams from the remaining four quarterfinalists will also get direct berths to the World Cup if Australia make it to the semifinals of this tournament, which is highly probable.

That means even the teams that lose in quarterfinals can directly qualify for the World Cup if they win the play-off matches of the AFC Asian Cup on February 2 and 4. The two losing quarterfinalists will feature in the Intercontinental play-offs.

For more on how the playoff qualifications work, read here.

Indian squad

Goalkeepers: Aditi Chauhan (1), Maibam Linthoingambi Devi (2), Sowmiya Narayanasamy (3).
Defenders: Dalima Chhibber (4), Ngangbam Sweety Devi (5), Ritu Rani (6), Loitongbam Ashalata Devi (7), Manisa Panna (8), Hemam Shilky Devi (9), Sanju (10).
Midfielders: Yumnam Kamala Dev (11), Anju Tamang (12), Karthika Angamuthu (13), Nongmeithem Ratanbala Devi (14), Naorem Priyangka Devi (15), Indumathi Kathiresan (16).
Forwards: Grace Dangmei (17), Manisha Kalyan (18), Pyrai Xaxa (19), Renu (20), Sumati Kumari (21), Sandhiya Ranganathan (22), Mariyammal Balamurugan (23)

Indian player to watch out for: Manisha Kalyan 

After memorable goal against Brazil, Manisha Kalyan looks ahead to AFC Women’s Asian Cup

Watch: Indian footballer Manisha Kalyan on her goal against Brazil, how her career began and more

Watch: India’s Manisha Kalyan scores a fantastic goal against Brazil in Formiga’s farewell match

Indian squad stats via AFC

Tournament format:

  • At the conclusion of the Group Stage, the first-placed and second-placed Participating Team in each group, as well as the two (2) best third-placed Participating Teams among all groups, shall qualify for the knockouts
  • The knockout Stage shall consist of the Quarter Finals, Semi Finals and Final 
  • The eight teams that qualify from the Group Stage shall play the Quarter Finals as follows:  

QF1: 1st A vs 3rd B or C 

QF2: 1st B vs 2nd C 

QF3: 1st C vs 3rd A or B 

QF4: 2nd A vs 2nd B

  • Winners of the Quarter Finals shall play the Semi Finals as follows: Winner QF1 vs Winner QF3 & Winner QF2 vs Winner QF4 
  • Subject to the number of slots allocated to the AFC in the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023, the AFC may schedule additional Matches to determine the teams participating in the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023.

Rankings:  11 Asia,  55 World
Captain: Loitongbam Ashalata Devi 
Head Coach: Thomas Dennerby (SWE)
Qualifying results: Qualified as hosts
Previous appearances: 8
Best placing: Runners-up (1979, 1983)


Covid-19 worries

There has been Covid-19 worries in the build-up to the tournament with Indian camp too reporting cases.

“Two members of the Indian Women’s Senior National Team for the AFC Women’s Asian Cup India 2022 have tested positive for COVID-19, and are currently in isolation at a designated medical care facility,” the All India Football Federation tweeted.

“The AIFF prioritises the health and safety of its players, and are following all the necessary health protocols as have been laid down by the AFC,” the organising federation wrote in another tweet.

One of the members (a player) would have featured in the starting XI in the campaign opener against Iran, a source close to the AIFF said.

The two positive cases will not threaten the tournament as AIFF president Praful Patel on Monday said that matches will not be cancelled if 13 players are available in each of the two competing teams.

All the 12 participating teams are staying inside a strict bio-bubble and everyone involved in the tournament, including all players and officials are required to undergo regular COVID-19 tests.

All the staff working in the team hotels will also be in the bio-bubble and will not physically interact with anyone outside the bubble.

(With PTI, AIFF and AFC inputs)