North or South Korea will miss out on the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France.
The results of the 2018 AFC Asian Cup qualifying draw over the weekend ensured that the path to 2019 is blocked for one of the top five teams in Asia. As a result, a spot for 2019 has been opened up for less heralded teams like Thailand and Vietnam to compete for.
The 2018 AFC Asian Cup doubles as qualifying for the 2019 Women’s World Cup for the Asian confederation. The top five finishing teams in the Asian Cup will qualify for the 2019 Women’s World Cup.
While qualifying for the men’s version of the Asian Cup takes place over three rounds using current FIFA rankings for seeing and with all teams but the hosts participating, a very different approach is taken for the women.
Four teams were given a bye to the Asian Cup, leaving four qualification spots open. The host for 2018, Jordan, received one of the bye spots.
For the remaining three spots, rather than use a mechanims like current FIFA rankings or most recent AFC tournament results, the AFC gives a bye to the top three finishers from the previous Asian Cup in 2014 (Japan, Australia and China).
Similarly, 2014 Asian Cup results are used to seed the remaining (in this case) twenty teams for the qualifying draw. For 2018 qualification, Jordan requested to participate despite already having qualified bringing the total of participating teams to twenty-one.
Those twenty-one teams were separated into five pots for the draw. The teams that participated in the 2014 Asian Cup were seeded according to their finish and allocated across four pots. The seven teams that did not play in 2014 were unranked and put in a separate pot.
The top four finishers (South Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, Jordan) went into pot A. The next four finishers into pot B and so on. The unranked teams went into pot E, initially, then two were moved to pot D to bring it to a total of four teams.
North Korea was one of the teams that did not play in the 2014 Asian Cup due to a doping scandal. As a result, despite being ranked 10th in the world, they were placed in the unranked pot.
South Korea was drawn into Group B as the top seed, then later in the draw found their neighbors to the north, ranked eight spots higher than them by FIFA, drawn into the same group.
Only the group winners advance to the Asian Cup and a chance to qualify for 2019, thereby ensuring that one of the Korea’s will not be in the 2019 field. Making matters more difficult for the South Koreans, Group B will be played in North Korea from April 3rd to April 11th.
Group A, played in Tajikistan from April 3rd to April 12th, sees Jordan as favorites. However, with Jordan already having qualified, the qualification spot in this group is up for grabs with no clear favorite.
Group B will come down to an April 7th clash between the two Korea’s. Group C and D, played on the same schedule as Group B, should be won by Thailand and Vietnam respectively.
That a lazy seeding mechanism based on results of four years ago rather than current rankings will result in South or North Korea failing to even qualify for the AFC Asian Cup is a disappointment. The implications for 2019 add to that disappointment.
Laziness of this sort with undesirable outcomes, unfortunately, seems to be all too common in the women’s game relative to the men’s game.
South Korea is a program on the rise after reaching the second round of the 2015 Women’s World Cup. North Korea, the tenth ranked team in the world, is a feature of the World Cup (when not banned).
However, as was the case in 2015 in the absence of North Korea, the draw does provide the opportunity for a less fancied team to experience the World Cup. For the 2015 version of the tournament, it was Thailand that sealed their spot with a playoff win over Vietnam.
In the meantime, all AFC eyes will be on Pyongyang on April 7th. The first meeting between the two Korea’s since a 1-1 draw in Olympic qualifying last year.