The Matildas 5-0 clinic against Vietnam on Friday night has all but cemented an Olympic berth, but also perhaps put to bed memories of the 2019 World Cup disappointment.
First-half goals from Sam Kerr, Chloe Logarzo and Emily van Egmond in front a 14,014 crowd in Newcastle set up the win, while a rare goal for defender Clare Polkinghorne and a late Kerr penalty made the return leg in Vietnam on Wednesday all but a dead rubber.
It was another fine effort from a team that suffered a controversies and missteps in 2019, but is clearly looking to make amends in 2020.
“We knew it would be a difficult game, it always is when you come up against an opponent who wants to sit back, defend deep and get bodies behind the ball,” said Australia coach Ante Milicic.
“The match playing time was low due to injuries, and it is difficult not to get frustrated sometimes but in the end, I’m delighted with the result and the amount of clear-cut chances that we created.”
While the home side dominated large tracts of the contest, the quantity of missed chances in front of goal proved to be a theme for the Matildas.
Notably Caitlin Foord twice hit the post and Van Egmond missed a couple of clear openings amid myriad spurned opportunities.
“I thought we controlled the game but we were not as a sharp as we would have liked to be in a few areas,” said Kerr.
The Matildas still have work to do down back, with Vietnam creating several scoring opportunites.
Pham Thi Tuoi should have scored early on, while Nguyen Thi Bich Thuy hit the crossbar in the dying moments.
Milicic is taking nothing for granted, saying the return leg still provides a challenge to get things right.
You never disrespect your opponent or what’s at stake, and my experience in Asia in away legs is that you are never out of sight.”
Vietnam showed some promise, notably on the counter-attack, and will likely start with a more attacking formation in the second leg.
“We predicted we would lose by many goals, but I’m happy that our players played with such spirit,” said Vietnam coach Mai Duc Chung.
“We will still play the same way for the second game and try and keep our focus.”
After narrowly failing short of the medal round at Rio 2016, the Matildas are seeking a second successive Olympic Games qualification and fourth appearance overall dating back to Sydney 2000.