Matildas draw with Japan in Asian Cup opener

Australia have had to settle for a point in the opening match of their AFC Women's Asian Cup title defence after letting slip a two-goal lead against World Champions Japan in Ho Chi Minh City on Wednesday.

Goals to Caitlin Foord and Lisa De Vanna put the Aussies in the lead before an own goal to Clare Polkinghorne and a strike by Yuki Ogimi clawed back the deficit for a 2-2 result at the final whistle.

With an average age of 22 in the starting line-up, the Matildas stormed out of the blocks and it was one of the team veterans, De Vanna, who almost stunned Japan with a well taken shot inside two minutes.

The Aussies came close again when De Vanna tried to tee up Katrina Gorry from 12 metres but the Japanese defence scrambled the danger clear.

Alongside De Vanna, speedster Foord looked threatening and the duo opened Japan up out wide on a number of occasions.

The breakthrough came on 21 minutes with a brilliant solo effort from Foord. Running at speed from inside her own half, the 19-year-old cut in from the left between two defenders, unleashing a shot that deflected in off the post.

The Australians were full of running in the stifling conditions against an understrength Japan side missing some key European-based players. But by the half hour Nadeshiko had found their rhythm and started dominating the midfield.

It took a stunning parry from goalkeeper Lydia Williams to deny striker Ogimi the equaliser on 42 minutes as the Matildas held on to their lead going into the break.

Japan hit the crossbar early in the second half and, after a swift but unsuccessful counter attack from the Matildas, Williams came up big again when needed, the 26-year-old coming out bravely to make a crucial block as Japan again beat the offside trap.

The Matildas survived another close call thanks to some desperate last ditch defending and their resilience paid off when De Vanna capitalised on a well worked move - Michelle Heyman doing superbly to hold the ball up for Emily van Egmond, whose partly blocked attempt fell invitingly out to the right for De Vanna, who celebrated becoming the fifth most capped player for the Australia’s women's team by rifling home the Matildas' second of the match.

The goal created a sudden lift in urgency from Japan and seven minutes later they reduced the deficit when Polkinghorne attempted to diffuse a low purposeful cross from the left only to see it end up in her own net.

Ogimi capped off a fine game as she brought Japan level on 84 minutes, latching onto a header that Williams could do nothing about.

There was one last chance for the Matildas to snatch all three points late on after excellent vision from Elise Kellond-Knight put Tameka Butt through, but she was ruled to have been inches offside and they were forced to share the spoils.

In the earlier Group A match, hosts Vietnam defeated Jordan 3-1 to go  top of the table.

The teams finishing in the top five of the tournament will qualify for next year's Women's World Cup in Canada.

“Before the game we probably would have taken a point but in the end we’re disappointed we didn’t come away with three points and had a foot in the World Cup,” interim head coach Alen Stajcic said after his first official game in charge.

“But the performance was good for the first 30 minutes and then we tailed off a bit at the end of the first half.

“In the second half I thought Japan dominated the game, they had more chances and kept better possession than we did and this is something we certainly have to improve on.

“Our desperation defending was brilliant, it kept us in the game at times, and our counter attacking looked really dangerous but at the end of the day I guess a draw was a fair result.”

The Matildas have less than 48 hours before their second group match against Jordan on Friday. Kick-Off is at 8.15pm AEST.

All Matildas’ matches in the AFC Women’s Asian Cup are live on Fox Sports.

Westfield Matildas 2 (Foord 21’, De Vanna 64’)
Japan 2 (Polkinghorne 71’ (og), Ogimi 84’)
Crowd: 2,000 @ Thong Nhat Stadium, Ho Chi Minh

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