Matildas reach Asian Cup semis despite Japan loss

Australia have narrowly claimed a semi final berth at the 2008 AFC Women's Asian Cup on goal difference ahead of South Korea, after a 3-1 loss to Japan tonight in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

Australia have narrowly claimed a semi final berth at the 2008 AFC Women's Asian Cup on goal difference ahead of South Korea, after a 3-1 loss to Japan tonight in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

All three teams finished on six points but Australia qualified second in the group with a goal difference of 7-3 ahead of the Korean's goal difference of 5-3.

Australia will now meet Asia's top ranked side DPR (North) Korea in the semi final on Thursday (7pm AET). The latter semi final will feature Japan and China.

Australia were down 2-0 at half time in a match again played in humid conditions, with rain later in the first half making for slippery conditions.

The Matildas were forced to rely on a rare goal from defender Clare Polkinghorne with 20 minutes remaining to progress to the next stage after being 3-0 down five minutes into the second half.

With a three way head-to-head being the first determining factor, Australia would have fallen behind South Korea in the race for the semi finals but for Polkinghorne's goal. With Japan ahead amongst the three teams that were equal on points, and goal difference equal between Australia and South Korea in matches featuring all three teams, goal difference across the entire group was the final determining factor.

"Whilst I am disappointed with the result and that we some lapses of concentration in defence, I am delighted with the character the team showed in claiming a semi final spot," says coach Tom Sermanni.

"Our team showed tremendous sprit and determination to come from behind to pull the goal back that we ultimately needed to reach the semis.

"Although the Japanese team had a largely changed line-up from the match two days ago, we had virtually the same team yet we finished the stronger which is a testament to this group of players."

Japan needed a two goal winning margin to overtake Australia and they started in dynamic fashion pressing the Matildas goal in the first half hour especially.

Kozue Ando had an early chance but failed to make enough contact to trouble Australian goalkeeper Melissa Barbieri. Ando though soon made amends when Homare Sawa released the No 17 who thrashed the ball inside Barbieri's near post.

Minutes later Miyuki Yanagita drove a dangerous free kick from distance that forced Barbieri to tip the ball over the bar.

Central defender Polkinghorne was then called on to make an essential challenge in the penalty area as Shinobu Ohno looked to pull the trigger. Polkinghorne's defensive partner Kate McShea was forced into an inpressive goal line clearance and then Yuki Nagasato should have scored from the follow up but she fired over when easier to hit the target.

Nagasato was not to be denied and she scored from close range just after the half hour mark after a ball threaded in behind the defence from Aya Miyama.

As if a two goal deficit wasn't bad enough for Australia, the storm clouds that started to swirl around the Thong Nat Stadium threatened to turn the pitch to water much like the Matildas opener against Chinese Taipei. Thankfully the clouds passed with a quick but heavy shower which made the pitch slippery and sharp for the remainder of the encounter.

Australia's best opportunities in the opening period came from corners with Heather Garriock and Collette McCallum firing in some difficult balls for the Japanese goalkeeper Miho Fukumoto.

The rain had largely stopped as the teams entered the field for the second half but there was to be further bad news for the Matildas with Mayama scoring the goal of the match as she turned her defender and fired a great strike from 20 yards in off the post.

Matildas midfilder McCallum fired over from distance while Kate Gill's lay-off allowed Lauren Colthorpe to loop a shot onto the roof of the net as Australia started to claw their way back.

The sharp and slippery pitch made ball control difficult and goal opportunities were limited despite Australia making more progress with an attack which now included substitutes Kyah Simon and Catlin Munoz.

The Matildas endeavour soon paid dividends with Munoz hitting a snap shot that deflected narrowly wide of the goal but leading to the corner wich ultimatly secured Australia's progression. Garriock's corner into the danger zone was powered home for the most important goal scored in Polkinghorne's young career.

Meanwhile across town at the Army Stadium, South Korea failed in their bid to overhaul Australia on goal difference defeating Chinese Taipei 2-0 when a fibe goal winning margin was required.

Match Details:-

Australia 1 (Clare Polkinghorne 70')

Japan 3 (Kozue Ando 8', Yuki Nagasato 33', Aya Miyama 50')

Australian line-up: Melissa Barbieri (gk); Kim Carroll (Amber Neilson 85'), Kate McShea, Clare Polkinghorne, Di Alagich (Kyah Simon h/t), Ellyse Perry, Lauren Colthorpe, Collette McCallum, Heather Garriock, Lisa De Vanna, Kate Gill (Caitlin Munoz 65').

Cautions: Garriock 58', Munoz 79', McCallum, 86'

Referee: Hong Sil Ri (DPR Korea)