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Qualifiers Final Round - Group B: Australia 1-1 China PR

Parramatta: Australia finished as the AFC Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament Group B winners, netting a last-gasp equaliser to claim a 1-1 draw against China PR at Western Sydney Stadium on Thursday.

A terrific Tang Jiali strike four minutes from time looked to have sealed a superb win for the Steel Roses, but an equally brilliant added time strike from Emily van Egmond gave the Matildas the draw they needed to win the group on goal difference.

Australia’s final position on the group table means they will face Vietnam next month for a place in Tokyo, while China’s Olympic dream depends on a two-legged contest against Korea Republic.

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With China PR winless in their last eight attempts against Australia, Jia Xiuquan named the same starting line-up for the third time in seven days, but his players showed no signs of trepidation nor tiredness in the early running, utilising a well-organised high press which forced the Matildas into a number of errors.

Australia may have had a monopoly of possession – almost 75 percent of it for most of the first half – but China’s intensity earned them several scoring chances, with Wang Shanshan heading Zhang Xin’s cross only inches wide before Ma Jun forced Lydia Williams into a save moments later.

A thunderous Elise Kellond-Knight free-kick brought the best out of Chinese shot-stopper Peng Shimeng in the 24th minute, but Australian hearts were in their mouths once again just after the half hour mark, when Li Ying blocked Williams’ attempted clearance, sending the ball narrowly wide of the Australian goal.

Wang had the ball in the Australian net in the 34th minute, only to be called back for offside, before hitting the frame of the goal from long range in injury time as a first half which produced six shots on goal for each side finished scoreless.

The arm-wrestle continued after the interval. Tang Jiali forced Williams into an important stop after a delightful moment of skill just after the break, before Australia’s Ellie Carpenter sent a terrific long-range effort narrowly wide of Peng’s right-hand upright moments later.

The chances were becoming more and more clear cut as the game opened up, with Wang finding herself on the end of two gilt-edged opportunities from counterattacks just after the hour mark, only to fail to force Williams into a save on either occasion.

Kerr and Foord both went close for Australia, but the Steel Roses continued to provide the best chances, with Steph Catley producing a heroic block to deny Zhang Xin when a goal seemed the most likely outcome with 15 minutes remaining.

Just as it seemed Australia would hold on for the draw they needed to win the group, the visitors conjured what appeared to be a fabulous winner, with Wang and Ma involved before Tang rifled the ball beyond Williams from 25 yards to stun the arena into near silence and spark celebrations on the Chinese bench.

But it was van Egmond who would have the final say, hammering in an unstoppable drive from the edge of the penalty area to salvage a hard-earned draw, and set up a play-off against Vietnam.

Photos: Football Federation Australia, AFP

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