Head Coach Alen Stajcic was ecstatic with the Westfield Matildas' history making win over Japan but knows the job of qualifying for Rio is by no means done.
The Westfield Matildas recorded a rousing 3-1 win over tournament hosts Japan and made some history in the process to open their Women’s Olympic Football Tournament Rio 2016 – Final Qualification Round in Osaka on a bitterly cold Monday night.
First half goals from Lisa De Vanna and Michelle Heyman followed by Katrina Gorry’s second half header gave the Westfield Matildas their first ever win against Japan on Japanese soil in eight attempts.
The victory was the Westfield Matildas’ sixth, and first since May 2010, against the former World Champions and the team who knocked them out at the Quarter Final stage of last year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada.
Stajcic says his team had spent the last four weeks planning on how to turn the tables on the loss in Canada and he was justifiably over the moon as the Westfield Matildas toppled the hosts and highest ranked country in the qualifying tournament.
“We know they’re a world class opponent and we’ve prepared over the past four weeks to play this match and play it at a tempo and a rhythm that we wanted to rather than how we played the World Cup match against them six months ago,” said Stajcic.
“I thought we did that very well and compared to six months ago I thought we controlled better patches of the game and even though Japan created quite a few chances I think we were a threat and a lot more positive than we were in that game six months ago.”
“We executed a lot better than that day and I think we thoroughly deserved the win.”
But while being delighted with the result, Stajcic knows one win counts for nothing and that there is still a lot of hard work ahead before the Westfield Matildas can start to think about the Olympics in Rio.
“It’s the first time we’ve beaten Japan in Japan and from my living memory I think it’s the first time we’ve beaten a world champion team in a major tournament rather than in a friendly so there’s lots of history attached to the result but we’re not close to qualifying at all yet,” said Stajcic.
“It’s just one game, there are four more tough matches. This is a tournament where any team can beat any team…so we’ll enjoy this win for an hour and then we’re focusing on our next match because if we think this is enough we won’t qualify.”
After not playing a match at the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, co-captain Clare Polkinghorne was given the captain’s armband for the match while Japan’s starting line-up featured nine of the eleven players that started against the Westfield Matildas in last year’s World Cup Quarter Final, goalkeeper Erina Yamane and Emi Nakajima the only new faces.
In her 50th appearance, Westfield Matildas goalkeeper Lydia Williams produced a host of sharp saves in windy conditions and they proved crucial as De Vanna scored her 38th goal for her country, superbly heading home a pinpoint Gorry cross.
With their tails up, the Westfield Matildas then doubled their advantage when a slice of luck allowed De Vanna to release Heyman with a well weighted through ball, the striker taking a quality first touch to round Yamane before slotting the ball into an empty net.
But right on the stroke of half time Japan clawed a goal back through Yuki Ogimi to leave the game delicately poised at the break.
Williams pulled off a crucial fingertip save just after the hour mark as Japan pegged the Westfield Matildas back into their won half in search of an equaliser.
However in the 78th minute Gorry, arguably the shortest player on the field, rose to expertly angle a header from Emily van Egmond’s quality cross to restore the two goal lead, a lead they would hold onto up until the final whistle.
The victory puts the Westfield Matildas at the top of the group as China defeated Vietnam 2-0 while Korea Republic edged out DPR Korea 1-0 in the other two matches played on the opening day.
The Westfield Matildas must now back up for their next match against Vietnam on Wednesday (2 March 2016) at Yanmar Stadium (kick-off 4.35pm local, 6.35pm AEDT).