The Matildas’ run at the Women’s World Cup has ended with a heart-breaking 1-0 defeat at the hands of Japan in their quarter-final in Edmonton.
With the weight of possession mounting against them and the mercury rising, the Matildas held on for 87 minutes, but eventually the reigning world and Asian champions broke the deadlock when Mana Iwabuchi pounced after the Australian defence failed to clear a late corner.
Australia goalkeeper Lydia Williams saved at the feet of Azusa Iwashimizu, but the defender recovered and slipped the ball to Iwabuchi, who fired into the unguarded goal from point-blank range.
In terms of courage, heart and spirit, [we were] fantastic. In terms of execution, not one of our best games.Matildas coach Alen Stajcic
The Matildas closed down Japan’s midfield superbly, not allowing them to find the fast-passing rhythm that has been typical of their performances in the tournament and the game looked headed for extra time before the game winner.
Matildas coach Alen Stajcic praised his team’s fighting spirit but said they were simply outplayed.
“In terms of courage, heart and spirit, [we were] fantastic. In terms of execution, not one of our best games,” he said.
“Japan were the better team today. It was a scrappy way to score a goal but you can’t say they didn’t deserve their victory.”
Japan controlled the ball far better than the Australians for most of the game, finishing the game with 60 per cent of possession.
And, while Stajcic said his team got back on level pegging for about 20 minutes, a lack of discipline with the ball eventually cost them.
“Some cheap turnovers cost us some possession and corners and eventually we paid the price,” he said, referring to Japan’s 8-0 advantage in the corner count.
Midfielder Elise Kellond-Knight agreed the Matildas were “shaky” in the first half in hot conditions and struggled against a technically brilliant opponent, but turned it around after the break.
“We thought we were starting to get over the top of them in the second half,” she said.
“We really had them under the pump and we had a few clear-cut chances.”
Ultimately, the Nadeshiko looked the better team from the opening whistle and Australia looked to be on the back foot for almost the entire game.
They produced the best chances of the game, taking 18 shots on goal to Australia’s 11.
While 15 of Japan’s attempts were off target, many missed by a whisker, including two of Shinobu Ohno’s first-half efforts and an 85th-minute volley from Yuki Ogimi that just sailed past the near post off the outside of her boot.
Japan, who also beat Australia 1-0 in last year’s Asian Cup final, will face the winner of the quarter-final between England and Canada, while the United States and Germany will contest the other semi-final on Wednesday.
History-making Matildas hold their heads high
The Matildas’ round-of-16 win over Brazil was the first victory by an Australian senior football team in a World Cup knockout game and the entire team was clearly emotional after coming so close to snaring a second only to fall short by the slimmest margin.
Sam Kerr had probably the best opportunity to get the Matildas ahead when she went on the attack after Mizuho Sakaguchi turned the ball over in Japan’s defensive half in the 55th minute.
Kyah Simon, the Matildas’ game winner against the Samba Queens, produced Australia’s only real chances in the opening stanza, but saw shots in the 12th and 45th minutes sail over the top and shut down easily by Kaihori respectively.
“I’m so proud of the girls,” Kellond-Knight said.
“The way we fought to the end. The way we made history [by] winning a knockout game.”
She also fired a warning shot to the field for the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France, saying the only way is up for the Matildas.
“We’ve only had six months together really so you imagine another four years,” she said.