The journey to represent Asia at the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament Paris 2024 begins this weekend when the Asian Qualifiers Round 1 get underway.
Two coveted slots are up for grabs and the 20 teams that are involved in the first of three qualifying rounds will dream of making it all the way to France. Six teams who were part of January’s draw have withdrawn – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Maldives, Palestine, Sri Lanka and Turkmenistan – while three teams are making their Olympic qualifying debuts, namely Bhutan, Kyrgyz Republic and Timor-Leste.
Their first hurdle will be making it through a round-robin group stage that features seven groups – two groups of four teams, two groups of three teams and three groups of two teams – to be each played in a centralised venue. The winners of each group will advance to Round 2.
The opener in Group D between hosts Thailand and Singapore at 5pm this Saturday, April 1 at Chonburi Stadium will kick off Round 1. Mongolia will then face Singapore on April 4 at the same venue, with the three-team group wrapping up on April 7 when the Thais – whose last qualification to the final round came in 2012 – take on Mongolia.
Group G are next in line for action, with hosts Kyrgyz Republic to play India twice in the two-strong group. The first encounter takes place on April 4, 8pm at the Dolen Omurzakov Stadium in Bishkek, with the second to be played three days later at the same venue and time.
The remaining five group campaigns will begin on April 5.
Group A hosts Uzbekistan, aiming to make it beyond the first round for a second time, face Bhutan at the Pakhtakor Stadium in Tashkent at 5pm. The other two teams, Jordan and Timor-Leste, square off earlier at 3pm on the same day at the Lokomotiv Stadium.
The other group to feature four teams, Group E will be staged in Hisor, Tajikistan. The Philippines, who make their FIFA Women’s World Cup debut later this year, will play Pakistan at 4pm at the Hisor Central Stadium, which is followed by Tajikistan’s clash with Hong Kong at 7pm.
The Fouad Chehab Stadium in the coastal city of Jounieh will be the battleground in Group F. Lebanon, the hosts, encounter Chinese Taipei in the group opener at 2.30pm, with the latter taking on Indonesia three days later.
In Group B, the Thuwunna Stadium in Yangon, Myanmar will be the setting for both of the hosts’ matches against the Islamic Republic of Iran, which take place at 4pm on April 5 and 8.
Finally, with its picturesque mountain backdrop, the Dashrath Stadium in Kathmandu, Nepal will feature Group C duo Nepal and Vietnam in a double-header that takes place at 6pm on both April 5 and 8.
The seven group winners from Round 1 will continue their quest in Round 2, which is expected to commence in October. In the next round, they will be joined by the five highest seeded teams – DPR Korea, Japan, Australia, China PR and Korea Republic – and divided into three groups. Four teams – the three group winners and the best-ranked runners-up – will then progress to Round 3 to play two pairs of home and away matches, slated for February 2024, with the eventual winners qualifying for the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament Paris 2024.