Matildas positive ahead of final

The Westfield Matildas have one final hurdle to overcome to successfully defend their AFC Women’s Asian Cup crown, and that is in the shape of World Champions Japan in Sunday’s final (kick-off 11.15pm AEST).

In a mouth-watering climax to the tournament, the Westfield Matildas have the opportunity to repeat their triumph from four years ago while Japan are attempting to claim their first AFC Women’s Asian Cup title.

The Westfield Matildas reached the decider courtesy of an impressive 2-1 win over Korea Republic, the Japanese recording a similar score line in their Semi Final against China although they had to do it the hard way as they snatched a dramatic winner deep into extra time.

Delighted his team has made it through for the chance to defend its title, Interim Head Coach Alen Stajcic knows the task confronting the Matildas does not come much bigger than facing the reigning World Champions.

The Matildas and Japan have already met once in this tournament, in the opening round of Group Stage matches, which saw Japan fight back from two goals down in an absorbing 2-2 draw, which has added further anticipation to what will unfold in the Final.

Heading into arguably the biggest game of his coaching career, Stajcic says the Matildas will continue to take the same mindset and approach that has helped them get to this point of the competition regardless of the calibre of the team they are up against and what is on the line.

“Our strategy will be the same as it has been the whole tournament…to be a positive team, a proactive team who likes to put a lot of pressure on the opposition and try to attack and score goals,” Stajcic said.

“I thought in the Semi Final we showed what an attacking threat we can be and hopefully we keep improving. That was one of the goals for us – to improve as the tournament went along so by the time we get to the World Cup next year we can hopefully threaten the best teams in the world like Japan, Germany and the USA.”

Positively, as has been the case for the majority of the tournament, the Matildas have no injury concerns heading into the Final. Key trio Teigen Allen, Katrina Gorry and Lisa De Vanna did not train with the main group during the squad’s light final training session but Stajcic said there was no concern of them not lining up on Sunday night.

“All of the girls are fit and ready for the game. We did a light session today because we only played two days ago, so we’re still in recovery mode,” Stajcic said.

“Our preparation has already been done well before today so everyone is available for selection.”

There will be one noticeable absentee from the Japan side that Australia met in the group game on May 14, classy forward Yuki Ogimi having been called back by her current club Chelsea for domestic duty.

But while the World Champions will be without their number 17, who was integral in helping Japan claw their way back from the two goal deficit, Stajcic is well aware they still have quality aplenty even without Ogimi.

“We know we’re playing the World Champions and they’ve got classy players all over the field such as Karina Maruyama and Nahomi Kawasumi…we know they’re such a good team despite the fact they played 120 minutes,” Stajcic said

“We know it’s going to be a massive game for both countries. They’re trying to win their first one (AFC Women’s Asian Cup) and we’re trying to retain the title, so either way someone will make a little bit of history.

“But I think it will be a great spectacle – two positive teams, two skilful teams and hopefully it’s a great contest on Sunday.”

Westfield Matildas co-captain Clare Polkinghorne echoed her coach’s thoughts, predicting the Final to be even more absorbing than that draw they played out in the Group Stage considering the prize that is hanging on the end of the result.

“Going into tomorrow’s game it’s going to be even tighter. There’s a lot of motivation for both teams – we’re looking to go back-to-back and Japan are looking to win their first Asian Cup,” Polkinghorne said.

“There is a lot more at stake in a Final than in the Group Stage…but we can’t be overawed by the game and the team we’re playing against. No doubt they (Japan) are a world class team but we think we’re heading towards becoming one as well.”