Women’s Asian Cup: Iran underdogs take on strong China with high hopes

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First-timers Iran take on title-contenders China in a Group A match of the Women’s Asian Cup football championships at the Mumbai Football Arena here on Sunday.

Iran had held hosts and higher-ranked India to a draw in their first match of the women’s Asian Cup and now will hope to do their best against China,who are the favourites to top the goup. China are eight-time Champions and have finished third in the previous two editions in 2014 and 2018.

Iran played the role of spoilers to India’s opening night party on Thursday, defending resolutely, and relying on goalkeeping heroics from Zohreh Koudaei to earn a historic 0-0 draw in Navi Mumbai.

In addition to giving the Iranians their first AFC Women’s Asian Cup point, the result engendered a belief that they can compete with the continent’s top sides.

Few teams in Asia come better than China and no one can boast a better record in this competition, with the Steel Roses lifting the trophy no less than eight times between 1986 and 2006 and laying a marker down for a potential ninth title with a 4-0 win over Chinese Taipei on Thursday.

But Irandoost has an unflinching belief in her side’s potential and made a bold prediction about Sunday’s clash.

“We know that China is one of the most powerful teams in Asia and in this competition,” she said. “But from what I have seen (against India), I believe we can stop China from scoring.

“Maybe now we’re a bit tired, but I have faith in my team and believe that we can qualify from the group stage.”

Thursday’s dramatic draw against the hosts has also provided a boost to Iranian captain Behnaz Taherkani, who believes her side will be better for having 90 minutes of tournament football under their belts.

“It was a great experience for us,” said the defender. “It was obvious that India had a lot of training camps and friendly matches, which we didn’t have, but we gave all of our efforts towards getting three points.

“We all know that China is one of the strongest teams in Asia. Eight times they have won this tournament, but we are prepared for this game, and we’ll do everything we can to get the best result.”

But the match against China will be a different matter altogether.

Despite Iran’s rapid improvement in the women’s game, they will go into Sunday’s game as clear underdogs, particularly given the ease with which Shui Qingxia’s side dispatched Chinese Taipei on Thursday.

Attacking partners Wang Shuang and Wang Shanshan starred in their first outing in India, netting three goals between them, but the Chinese front line could yet be strengthened even further with the addition of Tang Jiali.

The Tottenham Hotspur forward was a late arrival in Mumbai ahead of Matchday One, but Shui has been impressed by her progress since joining the FA Women’s Super League club last year, hinting that she may play a more significant role as the tournament progresses.

“Because Tang Jiali travelled alone to India, we only gave her 15 minutes for the game and I think she did a very good job, not only on the attacking side but also defensively,” said Shui.

“I hope that more players from China will play on the international platform, particularly in Europe, to prove themselves as well as to learn from other players in European countries.

“I think from Tang Jiali you can see the change of her mindset, as well as her confidence off the pitch. I think those are noticeable changes.”

The Chinese and Iranian women’s national teams have never met at the senior level, with Irandoost’s side becoming the 59th opponent to face the Steel Roses in international play.

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