Japan sneaks past Matildas

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Never in Australian Women’s Football has there been a more anticipated game than that of the 2014 Asian Cup Final Played at Thong Nhat stadium in Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam last night.

Words and images by Craig Stockdale

Sporting the reigning FIFA World Champions  Japan taking on the reigning AFC Asian Cup Champions Australia, the stage was set for a ‘cracker’ game. And it was Japan sneaking past the Matildas to secure their first Asian Cup win with a 1-0 victory in a very tight and hard fought battle.

The dream run for the Matildas ended in the 29th minute mark when Japanese defender Azusa Iwashimizu was able to head a cross from the right hand corner post into the net from what looked like an impossible angle. Neverthless, the Matildas fought the game out searching for that equalizer which eluded them all night as the Japanese defence remained steadfast to secure the Asian Cup silverware.

Australia played a very attacking style of football – something that coach Alen Stajcic has been vocal about engendering and it had paid off handsomely during the tournament.  But last night the Matildas created many opportunities that were not converted and the title slipped through their fingers.

With unprecedented TV coverage by Fox Sports and live online coverage on the internet, thousands of Australian Women’s Football fans stayed up into the early hours of the morning to watch and support the Matilda’s side as they fought valiantly to go back to back against the World Champions. Although they came away second on this occasion, there is no doubt the Matildas have narrowed the gap against the best women’s team on the planet and will be a real contender for the World Cup in 2015.

May it be noted, the Japan women’s national football team currently ranked in the top three in the FIFA World rankings , is better known as Nadeshiko in Japan and boasts some of the best female football players in the world. In particular, the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year Homare Sawa, two-time AFC Women’s Player of the Year Aya Miyama and Seattle Reign FC star Nahomi Kawasumi all three of whom played against the United States in the historic World Cup final three years ago.

The Matildas are currently ranked eleventh having dropped out of the top ten following their poor showing against France and Scotland earlier in the year under previous coach Hesterine De Reus. However, Coach Alen Stajcic has certainly bound the players and officials together and they are flying high after this Asian Cup title race of 2014 which should put them back into the top 10 by end of June.

The Matildas bring a very balanced team of experience and youth that combines well and sports a very positive and attacking style of football which has yielded solid results of late against international stalwarts like Brazil last month and now of course the best of Asia being Japan and Korea.

Alen Stajcic revealed that six of his starters today were 20-years-old or under and that he will now focus on improving technique and execution in preparation for the World Cup.

The Matildas can hold their heads high today as they displayed a real fighting spirit that with a little luck in conversions may have seen them achieve their goal in Vietnam.

The “Never Say Die” attitude was on display for all to see and the squad now returns to Australia with the World Cup in Canada next year squarely on the agenda.

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