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We deserved to qualify, says Australia's Milicic

Quang Ninh: Australia head coach Ante Milicic commended his players after they sealed their place at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics by completing a 7-1 aggregate triumph with a 2-1 win over Vietnam on Wednesday.

The Matildas overcame a number of off-field complications, including playing Wednesday’s final match in a closed stadium due to Covid-19 precautions, but they were rarely tested on the pitch, going five games unbeaten to secure a second successive Olympic berth.

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Reflecting on a successful campaign, Milicic praised his side’s ability to remain focused on the task at hand, declaring their qualification as one that had been well deserved.

“It’s been a long journey with a lot of different scenarios thrown up, a lot of changes in timetables,” he said.

“Even tonight was never going to be easy coming here on this pitch, without a crowd, with the lights going off (before the game) and with the 5-0 advantage from the first game."

“I’m delighted for the girls. They’ve deserved it. They’ve worked ever so hard.

"For the majority of the game tonight they were decent as well, and over the two legs we were the much better side, so congratulations to the girls and the staff, and they’re looking forward to going to a major tournament.”

While the Matildas comfortably got the job done over two legs, it was far from their best performance under Milicic, particularly in a second half where Vietnam not only scored their first senior goal against Australia but threatened to pull level on the night.

Vietnam’s goal, scored from distance by captain Huynh Nhu (pictured below), came as the result of an Alanna Kennedy error, but Milicic defended the defender’s general performance, and said he remained satisfied overall despite his side’s second-half drop-off in intensity.

“We conceded from an individual mistake, and these things can happen, particularly on this type of pitch,” said the former Socceroos striker. “But I thought Alanna Kennedy had a great game. She was dominant, and we will move forward from this.

“Our mindset doesn’t change (when we concede). We keep attacking and looking to score goals. The game got a little bit stretched at times and we were a little bit vulnerable on the transition, but all in all I’m delighted. We won a difficult game away from home and we’ve qualified for the Olympics.”

With qualification secured, Australia’s Tokyo 2020 preparations are now set to ramp up, with away friendlies scheduled against Canada and the United States next month, and Milicic to face the unenviable task of cutting his current 20-strong squad down to 18 ahead of the Olympics in July.

Milicic refused to rule out any late selection surprises in the coming months but admitted the small squad size in Japan will make it difficult for outsiders to dislodge players who have done the job of securing qualification.

“There’s always a chance, but at the same time we’ve got to narrow (the squad) down,” he said.

“It’s a big decision, and we’ve got to look at players who can play at an Olympic Games level. That’s the most important thing, the second thing is the W-League is now finishing so where the girls go is going to have an influence as well.

“Hopefully these games (in North America) go ahead next month because they’re two tier one opponents and that’s where you get a lot of takeaways, We’ll also look to have a couple more games in June, and that could be dictated by the draw, so we’ll go from there, but I’m just delighted that we have this calendar in front of us.”

Photos: Vietnam Football Federation

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