It was always going to be a thriller and the public were treated to a match of precision and heart, most of the precision coming from the Japanese and the Australian Matildas showing plenty of heart.
Japan had been given instructions to pressure the Australians early, obviously feeling that the longer the game went on the more of a chance the Matildas would have to get back into the match.
Japan were like a finely tuned engine in the early stages of the match with their technically superior passing, and the Matilda’s expended a lot of energy defending and were quickly smothered whenever they did get possession.
The Japanese pressing could not break down the Matildas defense although Japanese striker Shinbu Ohno could have taken them 1 up after her chip sailed agonizingly over Lydia Williams and the cross bar.
A few moments later Ohno once again went close after taking the ball on her right after a great pass from Sameshima, but her first time shot flew over the top right corner.
With 62% of the possession it seemed it was only a matter of time before the World Champions would break the deadlock, but against the run of play Simon pounced on a ball from Emily Van Egmond, but it was defended well by an outstretched Azusa Iwashimizu who denied her the shot.
“The fact that we didn’t have a successful goal earlier, as I look back, may have presented some difficulties, however we had analysed the Australian team and the players were repeatedly going back to the centre…and finally the set play and the melee resulted in a goal,” said Japan coach Norio Sasaki.
Australia tried to capitalise on the transition when Japan lost possession and when Lisa De Vanna turned and beat the Japanese defender on the left there was hope, but the Japanese were fully adept at defending also and became a defensive block that Australia couldn’t penetrate except for a long range shot from Simon at the 31 minute mark.
“They had better calmness and composure on the ball... and we turned it over way too cheaply. We got back into the game for a good 20 to 30-minute period in the second half but some cheap turnovers cost us possession, and corners, and eventually we paid the price on one of them,” said Stajcic.
Simon did a good job up front denying Japan the switch and effectively forced them to one side of the pitch, but in the high temperatures it seemed that the Australians couldn’t keep up the tempo for the whole match.
Early in the second half the possession seemed to even out and it appeared that the Matildas had effectively weathered the early storm and could now work themselves into the match.
Sam Kerr was set up with probably the best opportunity for the Australians, after a precisie ball from Emily Van Egmond, but rather than holding up the ball and playing in Simon in a 1-1 situation on the edge of the box , she went herself with a low shot to the right of the keeper, which was handled without difficulty.
It appeared that this was the game changer that went begging and this seemed to spur on Nadeshiko who countered at the other end and with good build up play were unlucky not to go ahead after a cheeky back foot tap in went tantalisingly wide of the post.
Stajcic replaced Lisa De Vanna with newcomer Larissa Crummer and then Kyah Simon with Michelle Heymen prompting thought that bringing on Simon late could have been an advantage at this stage of the match.
The Aussies started to tire from the continual defending and it seemed that with all the pressure put on them, lacked the composure and stamina to attack proficiently when they did get possession.
Desperate defending had kept the Asian Champions goalless, but a continual barrage of corners against the Aussies took their toll and with the Japanese set pieces continually threatening, it seemed that the deadlock would soon be broken.
The Australians started to give away the ball far too easily and it seemed the Japanese would capitalise and that is exactly what they did at the 87th minute.
After a corner was contested and poorly cleared, the Japanese midfielder put the ball back in the box, and in the eventual scramble and first save from Lydia Williams, left the ball to be volleyed across the line by substitute Mana Iwabuchi.
“The game petered out and they created a couple of chances more from our turn overs, we lost the patience and execution and decision making…they were a lot more composed throughout the 90 minutes,” said Australian coach Alen Satjcic after the match.
By Paul Brown