SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- The contrast between the fortunes of Asia's women's soccer teams and their male equivalents could not be more striking.
At last year's men's World Cup, none of the continent's four teams won a game and all finished bottom of their respective groups. At the 2015 female version, all five recorded a victory with only Thailand failing to make it to the knockout stage.
Japan, the defending champion, will take on the United States in the final on Sunday in Vancouver, and other teams put in strong performances: South Korea defeated Spain in dramatic fashion to progress past the group stage for the first time in its history; a young China team narrowly lost 1-0 to the United States in the last eight; and Australia was a standout performer and was narrowly defeated 1-0 by Japan at the same stage.
Thailand, making its first World Cup appearance, defeated Ivory Coast 3-2 in one game.
Moya Dodd, a former vice-president at the Asian Football Confederation and member of FIFA's Executive Committee as well as ex-Australian international, said funding was a the key to the success.
"Asian women footballers have always done well such as Taiwan in the eighties and China in the nineties," Dodd told The Associated Press. "But specifically for this edition, the AFC supported each of the five Asian qualifying teams with a $200,000 preparation subsidy which enabled teams to have solid blocks of preparation. For example, Australia enjoyed almost five months of almost full-time preparation."
Tom Byer, a youth development expert and football consultant to the Chinese Ministry of Education, said Asian teams have more belief in their capabilities in the women's game than in the men's.
"Japan winning the World Cup in 2011 has given Asian Countries both hope and confidence that they can win and that they belong in these international competitions," said Byer.
The success is even more pronounced at junior level. Of the four under-17 Women's World Cups held to date, three have been won by Asian teams: Japan, North Korea and South Korea.
"There is now a belief that other Asian countries can compete at the highest level," Byer said. "China sent the youngest team to this World Cup hoping to build for the future."
In the men's game, Asian teams are often up against opponents who are bigger and faster, whereas the physical differences are not as pronounced in the women's game and the Asian focus upon tactical discipline and preparation comes to the fore.
"The level of discipline in Asia for both sports and academics is valued much more," Byer said. "The Asian kids in general practice and study more than western kids therefore they tend to be better technically. And at the older age groups technical ability often trumps physical, more athletic ability."
It has also helped that there has been less competition to reach the summit of women's soccer, as some parts of the world have been slower to put funding into the female sport. While the men's professional game came east decades after it was established in Europe and South America, Asia has been an early adopter of the women's game.
"Many of the established world powers in men's football have been slow to take the opportunity in women's football," Dodd said.
"We are in for exciting times as more and more of the established 'old world' football nations realize the opportunity they are missing. Imagine a tournament that includes the likes of Italy, Portugal and Argentina with well-resourced women's teams. That will challenge today's top-ranked teams to reach even greater heights."