By Alen Stajcic’s own admission, the Matildas barely deserve to be in the Asian Cup final and will need to play a whole lot better if they’re to win it.
Australia made it to a third-straight final after a shambolic, but ultimately triumphant penalty shootout, win over Thailand on Wednesday morning.
Alanna Kennedy’s injury-time equaliser, Mackenzie Arnold’s shootout saves and Sam Kerr’s decisive spot kick earned the Matildas a rematch with arch-rivals Japan in the decider.
After the 2-2 (3-1 pen) success, coach Stajcic couldn’t hide his awkwardness to have stumbled over the line.
“We’ve got to improve in three days’ time … we’ve got a lot of soul searching to do and a lot of reflection to see what we can do,” he said.
We’ve got a couple of days to recover and hopefully we’ll put in a better performance in the final.”
The Matildas were disjointed and error-prone; a shadow of the side that belted Thailand 5-0 in Perth just three weeks ago.
Australia’s performance came in contrast to the determined Thais, who had Wilaiporn Boothduang sent off in the 87th minute but battled on.
Injured striker Caitlin Foord, speaking on Fox Sports, called the Matildas’ display “embarrassing”, and eventual triumph “very, very lucky”.
Stajcic could only manage praise for one team at the final whistle.
“I didn’t think I’d be sitting up here as a winner and being so disappointed,” he said.
“If we’re going to be positive I think we have to be positive about how well Thailand played.
“Their heart and their spirit were fantastic and they played with everything … they deserved to win tonight.”
Australia had taken the lead on 17 minutes when Emily Gielnik’s cross was nodded in by Thai defender Kanjanaporn Saenkhun.
Then it went pear-shaped, with walkabout goalkeeper Arnold and Kennedy at the heart of the horror show.
The defensive pair failed to deal with a long ball shortly after the opener, allowing Kanjana Sungngoen to score with a chip fumbled in by Arnold.
After the break, bungled clearances let in Rattikan Thongsombut to blast the Thais into the lead.
Stajcic had gambled with his selection, making six changes to the side that drew with Japan.
It backfired, with Kerr and Emily van Egmond watching on as Australia went behind to the team ranked world No.30.
The pair were thrown on to rally the Matildas and an opening came when Boothduang was sent off for chopping down Kerr.
An impotent attacking effort ended in stoppage time when Kennedy powered a header home from Elise Kellond-Knight’s stunning corner.
Against 10 women, Australia seemed sure to find a winner but Lisa De Vanna and Kerr spurned simple efforts in extra-time.
Arnold’s fine work in the shootout saved the Matildas’ bacon.