The EAFF E-1 Football Championship 2017 Round 2 kicks off on Tuesday as hosts Hong Kong, Guam, South Korea, and Chinese Taipei vie for the right to join reigning champions DPR Korea, China, and hosts Japan in the December 2017 final round.
Since its 2005 establishment, the tournament has served an important role for both the region’s leading and developing women’s teams, with nine out of 10 member nations participating.
The first round saw hosts Guam advance for a second straight time with a perfect record over Northern Marianas Islands and Macau, but they will face even tougher competition at Hong Kong Football Club Stadium.
The one-time EAFF East Asian Cup champions missed their chance at a second title last year, losing in the final match to archrivals and eventual champions DPR Korea. Yoon Deok-yeo’s team will be out for revenge, but have to go through a round of qualifying after failing to earn an automatic qualification spot for the final round.
The team has taken quite a new look from last year’s Women’s World Cup squad, with just eight of the 23 members selected again while former INAC Kobe Leonessa midfielder Ji So-yun will not be leaving Chelsea Ladies to join the national team. 28-year-old captain Cho So-hyun, who scored the equaliser to keep Japan out of title contention last year, will reprise her role in midfield as the most-capped player on the pitch.
The Masakåda are looking for their first ever qualification to the final round of the EAFF tournament, making their way into the second round of qualifiers with two strong 5-0 wins over Macau and Northern Mariana Islands. Under new coach Belinda Wilson, the team are aiming for disciplined performances, acknowledging the step up in quality of their opponents from the first round.
Captain Anjelica Perez will lead the midfield while the experienced Samantha Kaufman will maintain an organised defence, whilst serving as a big threat with her height and strength from corner set pieces. The team will also look for goals in open play from Paige Surber at the front of the team’s attacking line.
Hong Kong head into the tournament ranked 68th by FIFA; their only major tournament appearance in the last decade has been the 2014 Asian Games where they reached the quarter-finals despite losing both of their group stage games.
Nearly all of the team’s players hail from local leagues, and unlike the men’s national team the squad boasts no naturalised imports. Captain Chan Wing Sze was part of a Hong Kong trio signed by Nadeshiko League Division 2 side Japan Soccer College to short-term contracts in 2015.
The team maintains a small but loyal following but results are still lacking; they will be looking to improve on their 2015 showing in which they defeated Guam but lost to Chinese Taipei and South Korea.
Chinese Taipei come into the tournament with plenty of preparation following a recent camp in Shizuoka, Japan. While they struggled to earn positive results against a number of club, university, and high school sides, manager Masayuki Yagara saw positives in the experience, citing a marked improvement in the team’s physical strength and endurance.
Having come in second place to South Korea in four out of five times in tournament history, it is perhaps fate that the two teams will meet on the third and final day. But no matter where they stand come November 14, the 38th-ranked FIFA nation will need some help from talented players such as attacker Yu Hsiu-Ching defender Lin Ya-Han if they are to top the group.
SCHEDULE (Hong Kong Football Club Stadium, All matches UTC+8)
11:30 Guam vs. South Korea
14:30 Hong Kong vs. Chinese Taipei
11:30 Hong Kong vs. South Korea
14:30 Chinese Taipei vs. Guam
15:00 Hong Kong vs. Guam
18:00 South Korea vs. Chinese Taipei
(Contributors: Chung-Lan Cheng, Ryan Steele, Dan Orlowitz)