As expected, the top seeded teams of the 2018 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Women’s Asian Cup will meet at the finals.
World number six Australia won via penalty shootout after salvaging a draw against world number 30 Thailand, 2-2, while world number eleven Japan made mincemeat out of world number 17 China, 3-1
Thailand surprised the 2014 runner-up, scoring two goals after defender Kanjanaporn Saengkoon headed an own goal at the 17th minute.
Three minutes later, Kanjana Sungngoen volleyed a high-looping goal off a long ball for her fourth goal of the tournament to atone Saengkoon’s mistake. She then almost scored a second goal after eluding the defense of goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold, but her shot, as well as two successive rebounds from Thailand, were blocked by the Australian wall.
Thailand then scored its second goal at the 63rd minute with a strike from Rattikan Thongsombut, who caught a botched goal kick from Arnold as the score stood at 2-1 for Thailand by the end of the 90th minute.
Luckily for Australia, six minutes of injury time were added as they went for a final and desperate push to enter the finals. At the first minute of injury time, Ellise Kellond-Knight issued her best corner kick of her career as it landed on Alanna Kennedy for the header to send the game to extension time.
At extension time, it was all Australia on the offensive yet Thailand’s defense held on, averting six shots on goal by the Matildas, as the game went straight to penalty shootout.
That was when Arnold, lethargic for almost the entire match showed her wares. With the penalty count at 1-1, Arnold blocked three successive Thai shots while Stephanie Catley and Samantha Kerr converted theirs for the win.
The intense Australia-Thailand game was not matched by the Japan-China game though, as the defending Asian champions and 2011 world champions deposed the Chinese.
Mana Iwabuchi scored the first of a trifecta at the 39th minute, skillfully setting her own shot off the dribble from the right corner of the box and sinking the goal past the hands of goalkeeper Zhao Lina.
While China held their fort for the next forty minutes, fatigue set in as the more conditioned Japanese as the Germany-based Kumi Yokoyama scored on two successive goal: a volley from an foot outside the penalty box at the 85th minute and a penalty kick off Wang Shanshan’s handball at the 88th minute.
China earned their consolation goal at the 90th minute with Li Ying converting her penalty kick–her fifth in the tournament–off a Yokoyama foul.
In 2014, Japan won their first Asian Cup plum after nipping Australia, 1-0, in the finals.