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Vietnam Strikes First in the Women’s Asian Cup

Today was the opening of the 2014 AFC Women’s Asian Cup, and by extension of the qualifying tournament for the 2015 Women’s World Cup. Opening day saw the hosts, Vietnam, taking on newcomers Jordan and the two powerhouses of the tournament, Japan and Australia, facing off early.

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Vietnam 3-1 Jordan

It was the opening match, Vietnam vs. Jordan, that may have the bigger impact on who makes it out of Asia and into the World Cup. Japan and Australia would be devastated not to qualify, but neither Vietnam nor Jordan have ever done so before, and with fifth place of eight enough to nab a spot, they both had to feel like this game was their best chance for full points.

Nguyen Thi Muon scored from close range in the 20th minute to open the scoring for Vietnam, who have never progressed through the group stage of an Asian Cup. It took them only these twenty minutes to better their entire 2010 performance, where they failed to score a single goal.

Fifteen minutes later, Jordan’s Shahnaz Jebreen picked out star forward Maysa Jbarah on the edge of the box. Jbarah cut in and buried a beautiful curling shot, equalizing. Jbarah was second-top scorer in Asian Cup qualifying, and as a neutral, I must admit I’ve been pulling for Jordan largely to have the chance to see her play in Canada. But the hosts would not be denied. Vietnam’s free kick specialist Kim Hong took advantage of a good spot on the left flank and found the head of Thanh Huong, who put Vietnam back on top before the half.

There were good chances both ways in the second half. Vietnam’s came through substitute Nguyen Thi Nguyet, who forced a desperate save at Jordan’s near post. Jordan’s chance to equalize came in the 77th minute, when Yasmeen Khair got her head on a corner, but missed just wide.

In the 83rd minute, it was Thanh Huong again, chipping the keeper for her second of the match and the insurance goal for Vietnam.

Japan 2-2 Australia

The top two teams in Asia were perhaps a little unlucky to meet each other in the group stage, but not nearly as unlucky as groupmates Jordan and Vietnam were to have to face both of them so early. This one was not only a rematch of the semifinal from 2010 in which the Matildas beat Japan 1-0, but also potentially a preview of this year’s final.

19-year-old Caitlin Foord, one of four Aussies brought over from NWSL clubs, opened the scoring in the 21st minute with a dazzling individual effort. That lead held through halftime, but as soon as Chelsea striker Yuki Ogimi came on for Japan in the 34th minute, her impact was felt, and Japan controlled much of the ball through the interval. But the Aussie lead was doubled in the 64th minute by another NWSL Matilda, Lisa de Vanna. To their credit, up two goals, Australia made a positive or at least neutral attacking substitution, putting on forward Kathryn Gill for Michelle Hayman.

In the 71st minute, Japan finally broke through, forcing an own goal as Aussie captain Clare Polkinghorne deflected Nahomi Kawasumi’s cross into her own net. Then, in the last six minutes of regular time, it was the Seattle Reign player Kawasumi again, setting up Ogimi for the equalizing header and forcing the Aussies to share points.

Vietnam finishes the day in the unlikely position of group leader with three points to Australia and Japan’s one. Sterner tests ahead, as Group A continues Friday with Jordan vs. Australia and Japan vs. Vietnam.

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