Asian Cup opens in India; Australian women among favorites

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Australia is the co-host of 2023 Women’s World Cup. But its focus now is on winning the Asian Cup for the first time since 2010 after two losses in the final against Japan.

Newly-expanded from eight to 12 teams, the tournament opens on Thursday in India. Ten women on Australia’s roster of 23 play in England with Chelsea’s Sam Kerr leading the line and Alanna Kennedy at the back.

“I think given that we’ve fallen short the last two times, it’s something that we’re all really hungry to win,” Kennedy, who plays for Manchester City, said. “We’ve got a great opportunity ahead of us.”

The Asian Cup is also a gateway to the 2023 World Cup with the top five teams, excluding Australia, qualifying for next year’s tournament. As co-host of the global competition, Australia qualifies automatically.

Australia opens in Group B against Indonesia on Friday and then faces the Philippines and Thailand.

“For us, it’s always important that we don’t treat any game lightly,” added Kennedy. “There are going to be some really tough opponents in the group stage and we know, obviously, Japan are the team who beat us in the last two finals and I’m sure we will face them at some point.”

Japan, which won the World Cup in 2011, is going for a third successive continental title, but has won just one of one its last six warm-up games. Japan, unlike Australia, has a largely domestic-based team with just six players coming from overseas clubs. It is grouped with South Korea, Vietnam and Myanmar.

China has won the tournament eight times, but not since 2006. China opens in Group A against Taiwan. India and Iran are also in the group.

Early attention will be on the opening-day match between India and tournament debutant Iran. Iran qualified in September after a penalty shootout victory over Jordan.

The top two teams from each of the three groups advance to the quarterfinals along with the top two third-place teams. The final is set for Navi Mumbai on Feb.6.

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