The 20th edition of the AFC Women’s Asian Cup which is going to be held in India from January 20 to February 6, is set to witness some of the best players of the continent ply their trade.
India, the two-time runners-up, will host the mega event after an intermission of 43 years. The championship will surely go down in the history books as it’ll be the first international tournament hosted by Asian Football Confederation (AFC) inside a bio-secure bubble. It will be played behind closed doors across three stadiums in Maharashtra.
Asia is home to some of the best generational talents in women’s football who’ll be keen to leave a mark on Indian Soil. Let us now take a look at the 10 players who might grab attention with their performances.
10) Caitlin Foord (Australia)
Caitlin Foord plays as a forward for FA Women’s Super League club Arsenal and the Australian national team, the Matildas. She became the youngest Australian to play at a World Cup when she represented Australia at the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup at the age of 16. In 2011, Foord was named 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup Best Women’s Young Player, Asian Women’s Young Footballer of the Year, and Football Federation Australia’s U20 Women’s Footballer of the Year. In 2016, she was awarded Asian Women’s Footballer of the Year by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).
9) Hayley Raso (Australia)
Hayley Raso plays as a winger for Manchester City in the FA Women’s Super League and the Australian national team. Her previous team was Everton, from whom she was released on 17 August 2021. She has played on the Australian women’s national soccer team, the Matildas, since 2012 and previously played for the under-20 national team, the Young Matildas. Raso began her senior career with Canberra United in 2011, later on, she switched to Brisbane Roar in August 2013.
8) ALLANA KENNEDY (Australia)
Australia’s rock-solid center-back, Alanna Kennedy comes into the tournament after signing for Manchester City. Kennedy technically sounds like a defender and can also play as a make-shift midfielder. She is considered to be one of Australia’s best free-kick specialists. The 26-year-old has represented Australia 102 times and has found the back of the net eight times, two of which came at the 2018 AFC Women’s Asian Cup.
7) ELLIE CARPENTER (Australia)
Ellie Carpenter plays as a defender for French club Olympique Lyonnais and the Australia national team. She previously played for Western Sydney Wanderers in Australia’s W-League and Portland Thorns FC in the United States National Women’s Soccer League. Despite being 21-year-old Ellie has already recorded more than 50 caps for her national team. She has already won the UEFA Women’s Champions League and Coupe de France with Lyon in 2020. In individual honors, she won the PFA Women’s Footballer of the Year and several W-League Young Footballer of the Year awards.
6) CHO SO-HYUN (Korea Republic)
Cho So-Hyun plays as a midfielder for Tottenham Hotspur in the FA WSL. She is the Captain of the South Korean national team and is a natural number 8, the number she wears for both Spurs and Korea, playing as a box-to-box midfielder. She is widely regarded as one of South Korea’s finest ever players and is their most capped player. She has won multiple domestic league titles and won Korean Footballer of the Year in 2015. In the past, she has also played for West Ham United in FA WSL.
5) MANA IWABUCHI (Japan)
Mana Iwabuchi has been playing in top-tier football since she was just 14. She is one of the most prolific forwards in Japan with excellent technique and finishing. The Arsenal forward is nick-named ‘Mandona’ in Japan due to her ball control and ability to dribble past defenders. She helped Japan win the Asian Cup in 2018 and was adjudged the MVP of the tournament. She is a World Cupper and an Olympic medal winner. The 28-year-old forward has 36 goals in 82 appearances for Japan.
4) TANG JIALI (China)
The Tottenham Hotspur striker is raring to make a comeback into the national team after missing out on the Tokyo Olympics due to an injury. She played an instrumental role in China’s qualification for the Games with four strikes including a stellar goal against Australia in a 1-1 draw. She was also brilliant against South Korea and earned a penalty with her trickery. Playing in England has helped her improve her game by a few notches and the 26-year-old would hope to help China reclaim the AFC Women’s Asian Cup trophy with some goals in India.
3) SAKI KUMAGAI (Japan)
Saki Kumagai plays for Bayern Munich and is the skipper of the Japanese national team. She is a leader on the pitch and is a leader in Japan’s backline. During her time with Olympique Lyonnais, she has won two Champions League titles. With Japan she has won the World Cup in 2011, the Asian Games gold medal in 2015, Olympic silver in 2012, and two back-to-back Asian Cups in 2014 and 2018. The Nadeshiko are looking to do a hat-trick of wins in India and Kumagai remains a vital cog in that plan.
The Japanese skipper will leave no stones unturned to defend her country’s crown for the third time in a row. Saki Kumagai has led Japan to every possible international glory, be it a World Cup or a Women’s Asian Cup, she has won it all for her nation. She won the Asian Women’s Footballer of the Year award in 2019 for everything she has achieved with Japan. The 31-year-old will need to lead from the front as the Nadeshiko look to create history in India.
2) JI SO-YUN (Korea Republic)
Very few players can match the accolades won by Ji So-Yun at the club level. She has won three league titles in Japan and a further five in England with Chelsea. She has also won three FA Cups and a plethora of individual awards including the FA Women’s Player of the Year (2014). However, she is yet to win a major with the national team, which the 30-year-old is determined to change in the upcoming Asian Cup in India.
The midfielder has made over 100 appearances for South Korea and is also their all-time top scorer with 59 strikes to her name. She has scored against nine of the 11 participating nations at the 2022 AFC Asian Cup. Ji So-Yun is a proven winner and has many individual honors to show for her efforts. However, she is yet to win a major title with her national side and will want to change it in AFC Women’s Asian Cup 2022.
1) SAM KERR (Australia)
The Chelsea FC forward is the all-time leading scorer in the National Women’s Soccer League (NSWL) in the United States and until the 2020-21 season held the record in Australia’s W-League as well. She is the only female footballer to win the Golden Boot in three different leagues and three different continents – the W-League (Australia), the NSWL (North America), and the FAWSL (Europe). For her fine performances, she was named in the three-woman shortlist for the prestigious FIFA Best award to honor the best women’s footballer in the world in 2021. She has over 100 appearances for Australia and has scored 49 goals.
The Australian skipper will have a task on her hands and revenge boiling in her mind to settle past records in the tournament. She is considered to be Australia’s best generational talent and has surely lived up to it. Samantha has made it to the final three for the FIFA Best Women’s player of the year award and she’ll give it all for Australia in the upcoming tournament to prove her credentials.
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