Taiwan moved into second place in Group A at the 2022 Women's Asian Cup on Monday after India withdrew, setting up a showdown with Iran to qualify for the tournament's quarterfinals and possible 2023 Women's World Cup berth.
India, which is hosting the 17-day tournament, was forced to withdraw after its team was hit by an outbreak of COVID-19, making it unable to field the minimum 13 players in a scheduled Group A match against Taiwan Sunday, according to the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).
The host team was responsible for the match not taking place and therefore considered to have withdrawn from the competition according to tournament rules, the AFC said in a statement.
The statement solved what appeared to be a mystery Sunday when the AFC first announced that the match between Taiwan and India was called off but did not say whether the game would be played at a later date or what it meant for future Group A matches.
India's withdrawal left Taiwan placed second in the three-team Group A behind China and ahead of Iran on goal difference.
China has clinched Group A's top spot after a 4-0 win over Taiwan and a 7-0 whitewash of Iran, leaving Taiwan and Iran to compete for a spot in the quarterfinals in the group's final match in Mumbai on Jan. 26.
Under the tournament format, the top two teams in each of the three qualifying groups reach the quarterfinals, along with the two best third-place qualifiers.
Taiwan would take second place and a quarterfinal berth with a draw with Iran, but it could still qualify for the final eight if it loses to Iran by a narrow margin and ends up as one of the top two third-place teams.
The incentive for reaching the final eight is enormous. The 2022 Women's Asian Cup semifinalists and two top quarterfinalists will automatically qualify for the 2023 Women's World Cup being hosted in Australia and New Zealand.
Australia, which has already locked up an Asian Cup quarterfinal slot, gets a World Cup berth as its co-host, leaving five other spots open to other teams.
The other two Asian Cup quarterfinalists will still have a final chance to get into the World Cup through an inter-confederation playoff, currently scheduled for February 17-23.
Aside from China and Australia, Japan and South Korea have also punched their ticket into the Asian Cup final eight.
Taiwan has already made strides this year simply by advancing to the Asian Cup, being played for the 20th time. It is making its 14th appearance in the tournament, but its first since 2008.
Taiwan qualified for the first Women's World Cup in 1991, but has not been back since.
Taiwan's women's soccer team is a three-time Asian champion, having won the title in 1977, 1979 and 1981.
Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel