With Oceania, CONMEBOL, the CAF and CONCACAF determining its entries for the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics Women’s Football Tournament, there are only two regions remaining that have yet to submit its entries for the Games. The final round of the 2015-16 AFC Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament will be taking place in Japan starting on Feb. 29 and culminates a long process that started on Mar. 11 with the first round. Nagai Stadium and Kincho Stadium in Osaka will be hosting 30 matches. The top two finishers will be advancing to Rio.
Here is The Stoppage Time’s power rankings for the teams that will be participating in the final round of the 2015-16 AFC Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament.
Well, this is a no-brainer. Norio Sasaki‘s Nadeshiko Japan is projected to win all of its matches and advance to Rio, perhaps to take another shot at their traditional trans-Pacific rival, the USWNT. Notable players for the Nadeshiko that are expected to contribute include defender Azusa Iwashimizu (11 goals in 117 career appearances), defender Saki Kumagai (73 career caps), captain and midfielder Aya Miyama (38 goals, 156 caps), midfielder Nahomi Kawasumi (19 goals in 76 caps), midfielder Mizuho Sakaguchi (27 goals in 96 caps), forward Shinobu Ohno (39 goals, 135 caps), forward Yuuki Ogimi (55 goals, 124 caps) and Bayern Munich striker Mana Iwabuchi (30 caps).
2. North Korea
The real race in the this tournament will be who gets to join Japan in Rio. The Stoppage Time…is picking the Chollima Ladies of Kim Gwang-min‘s North Korea. Due to doping, it was unable to participate in the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup and was banned. Thanks to reforms and renewed anti-doping efforts, North Korea is ready to return to glory and test the USA in Rio. Key players to watch (who featured at the 2014 Asian Games) include Ri Ye-gyong, Ho Un-byol, Kim Yun-mi and captain Ra Un-sim.
It will be a shame that Australia‘s Matildas will not get a chance to compete in Rio and join a long line of Australian sporting greats to play at the Olympics. But Alen Stajcic’s ladies will give it a nice crack, with the bulk of their squad hailing from defending W-League Premiers and Champions Melbourne City. Notable Matildas to keep and eye out for include captain/forward Lisa De Vanna (37 goals, 106 caps), Brisbane Roar defender Clare Polkinghorne (80 caps), Sydney FC/Boston Breakers striker Kyah Simon (15 goals, 58 caps), City defender Steph Catley (42 caps), Turbine Potsdam midfielder Elise Kellond-Knight (64 caps) and Canberra United striker Michelle Heyman (15 caps, 41 appearances).
4. China PR
If China‘s 1-0 victory over the USA last year told you anything, don’t sleep on Bruno Bini’s Steel Roses. They know how to play and they will look to challenge for a spot at Rio. Their stock may have taken a drop in recent years but they are capable of holding their own. Notable players to watch out for include midfielder Wang Shuang (33 caps), Olympique Lyonnais goalkeeper Wang Fei (63 caps), defender and captain Wu Haiyan (60 caps), forward Gu Yasha (10 goals, 93 caps) and forward Yang Li (20 goals, 25 caps).
5. South Korea
One of two teams that are deserved outsiders to advance to Rio, the Taeguk Ladies of South Korea are hopeful to provide some upsets and be the surprise team in the region. Not as potent as their northern neighbors, Korea Republic, managed by Yoon Deok-yeo, have some talented individuals, including Chelsea forward Ji So-yun (38 goals, 74 caps), midfielder Jeon Ga-eul (32 goals, 67 caps), forward Yoo Young-a (28 goals, 63 caps), midfielder Kwon Han-nul (15 goals, 100 caps) and captain/midfielder Cho So-hyun (82 caps).
Mai Duc Chung‘s Golden Girls of Vietnam will just be happy to be taking part in the final round because we here at the Stoppage Time do not believe they will register a single victory or draw. However, Vietnam are ranked 29th in the world, so don’t be surprised if the best team in ASEAN outside of the Matildas turn skeptics into believers. They did test Australia’s Young Matildas (Under-20s) at the 2015 AFF Women’s Championship in their 4-3 loss in the 3rd place game, so there’s that to consider. Notable players to watch include midfielder Nguyen Thi Tuyet Dung, midfielder Tran Thi Thuy Trang and forward Nguyen Thi Minh Nguyet.