Australia 1-1 China
By Ben Gilby
The Matildas gained the point they needed to ensure they topped Asia Qualifying Group B for the Olympic Games Women’s Football tournament with a draw in Parramatta.
However, due to their own profligacy, basic errors and a punchy Chinese side, the Green and Golds were made to wait until the depths of second half stoppage time for the all-important goal.
When it came, it was an absolute rocket from Emily van Egmond – her third strike in the last two games, and ensured a memorable and dramatic conclusion to an enjoyable game.
For the first time in the qualifying tournament, Australia’s coach, Ante Milicic named what resembled a more first choice line-up. That this side produced the number of errors that they did on the night will be of concern to Matildas fans ahead of their two legged final qualifier with Vietnam next month.
Sam Kerr, who had a quiet night by her standards, created the first opportunity on two minutes. The East Fremantle born star popped up on the right and played the ball into Caitlin Foord. The new Arsenal signing controlled instantly and then curled a shot wide.
Shortly afterwards, the Chinese showed warning of how dangerous they could be with an intricate passing move up which needed Ellie Carpenter at right-back to tidy up. On eleven minutes, they stole a loose Australian pass and Li was away. Her ball found Ma whose effort needed Lydia Williams to be alert in the Matildas goal.
Just after the half-hour mark, the Matildas made a hash of trying to clear Yao’s corner which allowed Li to head back to Wu who fashioned an opportunity which was eventually cleared. Opposition with more potent players would have punished the Australians.
The Chinese were now being roared on by a good number of the large ex-pat community of Sydney (the NSW capital being just fifteen miles from the Bankwest Stadium in Parramatta). A poor back pass needed Williams to race from her goal to clear as the visitors continued to take a grip on the game.
The final chance of the half saw a spectacular 25 yard effort from Wang which was deflected onto the top of the bar.
Australia had been warned. They needed to tighten up their passing and concentration in the second half or else they would face a significantly tougher final qualifier against South Korea.
The Chinese started the second half on the front foot. Tang danced round the Australian defensive duo of Clare Polkinghorne and Ellie Carpenter before drawing a save from Lydia Williams.
The Matildas stepped it up and had a good fifteen minute period. First Carpenter went on a trademark run down the right and cut in towards the edge of box before hitting a shot narrowly wide. Caitlin Foord then put in a curling cross which was too high for Sam Kerr.
China were let back into it from a poor clearance from Lydia Williams, who was not enjoying her finest game, which found the feet of Tang. The attacking midfielder motored down the right, drew and beat the challenge of Steph Catley before putting in a cross which was beyond any of her team mates.
Sensing that the Australians were back in careless mode again, Wang drove forward, but just as she was about to pull the trigger for a likely goal, out of nowhere appeared Polkinghorne to put in a sensational tackle to save the Matildas’ blushes.
With just over twenty minutes to go, W League top scorer Kyah Simon was introduced and she had a positive impact. Dancing down the right, her cutback found Elise Kellond-Knight whose attempted pass to Kerr failed to make its target.
China had two golden chances within two minutes of each other. First, Yao found Li whose shot was disappointing, but on 78 minutes they really should have scored. Tang’s ball was played back but neither Williams or her defence could get a command of the situation and eventually the danger was cleared, but only after the Australian keeper had to retreat to parry a shot which should have never been allowed to happen.
Foord fashioned an opportunity for Australia when she curled a delightful effort agonisingly wide. Simon popped up on the right again and hit a speculative effort which Shimeng didn’t need to deal with.
Then, with four minutes to go, the Chinese went ahead. From Ma’s ball, Tang fired in a shot which Williams simply couldn’t stop. That goal put China provisionally top of the qualifying group, which would send the Matildas into a tough decider with South Korea.
However, to their credit, Australia transformed themselves in the final minutes into a far more recognisable version of the technically gifted and quality attacking outfit that they really are. Tameka Yallop on as a sub, joined the attack. Carpenter troubled the Chinese defence and the Matildas won a succession of corners, which frustratingly came to naught.
Then, two minutes into stoppage time, the moment of true quality that this Matildas side are always capable of. Catley played a long angled pass from central midfield into the feet of Caitlin Foord who lost her footing somewhat, but crucially managed to nudge the ball back towards Kyah Simon. The Melbourne City striker, born just up the road from Parramatta in Blacktown, played the ball to the right to Emily van Egmond who was positioned on the edge of the eighteen yard box. She smashed the ball into the top left corner first time to spark delirious scenes both on the pitch and in the Bankwest Stadium stands. Australia had gained the point they needed to top the group. But they made it harder work than it needed to be.
The Matildas now go on to face Vietnam over two legs, first in Newcastle, NSW on 6th March, with the second leg following five days later in Cam Pha. Despite the South-East Asian side being ranked well below Australia at thirty-two in the world, the Matildas will have to produce a far more consistent performance in order to confirm their place at the Tokyo Olympic Games. They will want to leave the McDonald Jones Stadium with a good lead, which they are more than capable of achieving, or else the second leg promises to be extremely tough.
The official Matildas photo gallery of the game can be seen here: https://www.matildas.com.au/news/gallery-westfield-matildas-produce-thrilling-finish-against-china
AUSTRALIA: Williams, Carpenter, Polkinghorne, Kennedy, Catley, van Egmond, Kellond-Knight, Logarzo, Raso, Kerr, Foord. Subs: Luik, Roestbakken, McCormick, Micah (GK), Yallop (for Kellond-Knight), Gielnik, Simon (for Raso), Arnold (GK), Gorry.
Goal: van Egmond 90.
CHINA: Shimeng, Zhai, Lin, Wu, Luo, Li, Ma, Yao, Zhang, Wang, Tang. Subs: Xiolin, Shan Shan (for Zhang), Ying, Yangqu, Li, Zhang, Duan (for Li), Yang.
Goal: Tang 86.
Referee: Y. Yamashita (Japan)
Venue: Bankwest Stadium, Parramatta.