The Matildas are bracing for an extremely tough semi final when they take on Korea Republic in the AFC Women’s Asian Cup on Thursday night at Thong Nhat Stadium in Ho Chi Minh City.
Having accomplished their first objective of qualifying for next year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup by defeating Vietnam on Sunday, the Aussies now turn their attention to defending their Asian Cup crown.
The free-scoring Koreans finished top of Group B on goal difference, ahead of China, and have bagged more goals than any team in the tournament so far, thanks largely to a 12-0 result against Myanmar in the group stage.
Just as worryingly for the Matildas, their opponents have yet to concede.
But head coach Alen Stajcic believes whatever happened earlier in the tournament has little bearing now they have reached the business end.
“We’ve qualified for the World Cup but obviously we’ve got our second objective of trying to retain the Asian Cup that we won four years ago,” Stajcic said.
“We know it’s going to be extremely tough.
“Korea Republic is a very good team with lots of good players, so we’ll be trying our hardest to overcome their technique and some of their good players and hopefully produce some good attacking football ourselves.
“At the end of the day everything that happened in the group stage is irrelevant now. Both teams are very good, it will be a big 50-50 battle and whichever team plays better on the night will go through to the final.”
After an impressive performance against World Champions Japan in their opening match of the tournament, the Matildas struggled to recapture that electric form in their following two encounters.
But with a spot in Sunday night’s final against either Japan or China awaiting the winner, Stajcic said there was no excuse for his players not to produce their best football and win the title.
Efficiency in the attacking third and capitalising on promising build-up play in midfield are areas the Matildas will need to improve on if they are to match it with the Koreans.
Australia will also need to remain compact defensively to quell their opponent’s attacking prowess. If they can hold firm and restrict the chances for Korea, Stajcic believes the Matildas have the firepower to hurt them at the other end.
“I thought our first game in the group stage was really positive, there are a few things to work on from the second and third games but we’ve had some training sessions since then and we think we’re ready to go for the semi-final, Stajcic said.
“We’ve watched plenty of footage of Korea so we’re pretty aware of what they’re capable of and we saw the other night (against China) that they’re technically brilliant, their number 10 is probably one of the best players in the tournament and the girl up front is a powerhouse and she’s a threat.
“We know how good they can play and that they’re certainly going to be a big challenge.
“But I think if we’re disciplined and have a good shape and structure defensively, I think our team has got goals in it.
“We’ve got so many weapons - whether it’s Katrina Gorry, Emily van Egmond or our front three - we’ve got weapons all over the field that can score goals and I think we’ll be dangerous from set pieces as well.
“So as long as we can hold them out, and hold off some of their threats, I think we’ve got goals in us and I think South Korea know that as well.”
Stajcic is expecting a typically tense affair and the Matildas’ mental strength for the duration is set to be just as important as how their bodies handle the conditions physically.
“Anything can happen in a semi-final like this so we’ve got to be prepared for extra time or a penalty shootout,” the coach added.
“We won the Asian Cup in a shootout last time so we have to be mentally prepared for a grind if it gets down to being a game like that.”
On a positive front the Matildas have no injury concerns going into the match. Every player in the squad is fit, available and ready.
Kick-Off is at 11.45pm AEST and the match can be seen live and exclusive on Fox Sports 2 and 2HD.
The other semi-final between Japan and China will be played beforehand.
AFC Women’s Asian Cup – Semi Final
Korea Republic v Westfield Matildas
Thursday 22 May 2014
Thong Nhat Stadium, Ho Chi Minh
Kick-Off: 8.45pm local time (11.45pm AEST)
Head to head record
Played 14; Australia 9; Korea Republic 3; Draws 2