Sport Football Late strike saves Matildas from daunting path to Olympics
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Late strike saves Matildas from daunting path to Olympics

Matildas captain Sam Kerr celebrates at the final whistle of Thursday night's 1-1 draw with China. Photo: Getty
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Matildas star Emily van Egmond struck an injury-time screamer to salvage a 1-1 draw against China in Sydney, saving the home side’s blushes and setting up an easier path to the Tokyo Olympics.

When the Steel Roses broke the deadlock in the 86th minute through Tang Jiali for a deserved lead – having earlier struck the bar and had a goal disallowed for offside – Australia was staring down the barrel of a shock loss at Bankwest Stadium on Thursday night.

It was also facing the prospect of playing the powerhouse South Korea in next month’s home-and-away playoff if it did not secure at least a draw.

But fresh off a maiden international hat-trick in Monday’s 6-0 rout of Thailand, van Egmond came to Australia’s rescue by blasting a 16-yard belter into the top left corner in the second minute of injury time.

The result means the Australian side secured top spot in Group B qualifying on goal difference and will now play Vietnam at Newcastle’s McDonald Jones Stadium on Friday, March 6.

Matildas coach Ante Milicic opted for a full-strength side as he swung six changes.

Back in the starting line-up, Sam Kerr showed no lingering signs of the troublesome quad that reduced her to bench cameos in Australia’s routs over Thailand and Taiwan.

The Chelsea superstar broke loose on goal in the third minute with a deft touch, playing a deft cut back to Caitlin Foord who sprayed her shot wide.

Bristol City signing Chloe Logarzo soon went down clutching her face after a heavy challenge from Wu Haiyan.

It earned Australia a free-kick but van Egmond couldn’t produce a long-range effort to test Chinese shot-stopper Peng Shimeng.

The Matildas were dropping like flies at this point, with an inadvertent elbow from Zhai Qingwei to Hayley Raso’s face drawing blood.

After van Egmond drew a free-kick, Brisbane Roar’s Elise Kellond-Knight smashed a long-distance rocket into the top right.

But Peng was equal to the task, parrying the shot wide.

Despite imposing themselves as the aggressor in the initial stages, the Matildas had nothing to show for it.

It was chaos moments later as Kellond-Knight thundered a clearance into the shins of Li Ying and almost ricocheted into the net.

China was slowly working their way into the match and striker Wang Shanshan would have been clean through on goal if not for an incorrect offside call.

Not to be denied, Wang struck the woodwork with a wobbly long-range effort before half-time.

China continued to cause the Matildas’ trouble after the break, with Tang leaving a trio of defenders in her wake before producing a low save from Lydia Williams.

Kerr picked Yao Lingwei’s pocket to kickstart a promising Australian counter-attack but Raso couldn’t breach China’s walls.

With half an hour left, the visitors butchered a three-on-two opportunity as Wang skied her shot well over the bar.

Milicic turned to his bench for a spark, bringing on Kyah Simon and Tameka Yallop.

Desperate lunging blocks from Clare Polkinghorne and Steph Catley in quick succession prevented Australia from falling behind.

But their resistance was broken as Ma Jun teed up Tang for a blistering 86th-minute strike from outside the box, before van Egmond found one of her own to save the Aussies.

-with AAP

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