The Westfield Matildas’ suffered their first loss of the 2010 AFC Women’s Asian Cup campaign, falling to hosts China PR in a top-of-the-group clash.
An impressive long-range effort by China’s 21-year-old star Zhang Rui was the decider between the hosts and the form team of the first two rounds, Australia.
The result however, proved inconsequential to both sides’ chances of qualifying for the semi-finals, only serving to organise which nation finished first and second in Group B.
Ten changes were made by Westfield Matildas coach Tom Sermanni from the side that defeated South Korea two days earlier, the effect of playing two matches in extremely humid conditions over a week taking its toll.
Despite critics labelling the line-up made by Sermanni as ‘second-string’, the Australian coach defended his decision, highlighting the benefit of a strong overall squad Australia had brought to Chengdu for the tournament.
“We have done this in past Asian Cups and at the 2007 World Cup. We play the squad as a whole,” Sermanni stated.
“As we had already qualified, we knew we would have to play five games in 12 days so it was important to utilise the squad so we can be fresh for the business end of the tournament,” he added.
Aside from the result and loss of top spot in Group B, the match gave Australia more significant headaches leading up to their knockout match against Japan in five days.
Star striker Lisa De Vanna, was stretchered off after colliding with Chinese goalkeeper Zhang Yan Ru, twisting her leg awkwardly.
The US based forward had only been on the pitch for twenty minutes before getting injured, after replacing Sarah Walsh early in the second half as the Westfield Matildas chased the game.
Possibly losing a player like De Vanna, who has been crucial to Australia’s opening two victories, will be a heavy blow to the side’s Asian Cup hopes, particularly with the upcoming opponents Japan tipped by many as the favourite to lift the Asian Cup trophy.
Until then however, Sermanni will be sweating on De Vanna’s x-ray results to determine the extent of her injury.
The match itself was not much of a spectacle and the sole goal came in the ninth minute. A slip by Matildas midfielder Aivi Luik allowed Zhang to cut inside and steer a right-footed shot into the bottom right corner from the edge of the area.
China started most promising in the opening stages with the Australian defence allowing harmless through balls to run to unmarked Chinese forwards around the edge of the area, if not for both goalkeeper Lydia Williams and the low accuracy of striker Sun Ling, the hosts may have led by two or three goals early on.
The Westfield Matildas had trouble getting forward and creating dangerous opportunities, being held by a resolute Chinese defence that required a result to avoid possible elimination from the competition.
Despite defeat, Australian coach Tom Sermanni remained upbeat.
"I am pleased with the finish especially in last 30 minutes when we pressured China and were unfortunate not to score," said Sermanni.
"Overall, I am disappointed with the result but not with the performance. Our confidence will not be shaken as we finished the game well.”
China’s coach Shang Rui Hua praised Australia’s performance against the hosts.
“Australia played quite well, it was overall not a good performance as a lot of the (Chinese) players were tense,” Rui Hua said.
Rui Hua outlined the difficulty within this Asian Cup to play regular matches in the tournament both for his side and the remaining teams still in contention due to the hot and humid conditions seen in the central inland city of Chengdu.
"The temperatures are very high so it’s not easy and although we won, we missed a lot of opportunities due to limited capabilities and conditions.”
China PR: 1 (Zhang Rui 9’)
AUSTRALIA Line up: 18. Lydia Williams (GK) 10. Kylie Ledbrook, 13. Thea Slatyer, 15. Sally Shipard, 17. Kyah Simon (14. Collette McCallum 60’), 19. Leena Khamis, 24. Tameka Butt, 27. Aivi Luik, 3. Karla Reuter, 7. Heather Garriock, 9. Sarah Walsh (11. Lisa De Vanna 53’) (22. Sam Kerr 72’)
Substitutes not used: 1. Melissa Barbieri (RGK), 4. Clare Polkinghorne, 5. Lauren Colthorpe, 6. Servet Uzunlar, 12. Kate Gill, 16. Elise Kellond-Knight, 23. Kim Carroll, 31. Teigan Allen, 25. Casey Dumont (RGK)
CHINA PR Line Up:
1.Zhang Yan Ru (GK) 14. Li Dan Yang, 15. Sun Ling, 16. Zhang Rui (11. You Jia 84’), 2. Lui Hua Na, 24. Ma Zi Xiang (13. Lou Jia Hui 76’), 3. Yuan Fan, 5. Weng Xin Zhi, 7. Bi Yan, 8. Xu Yuan, 9. Han Duan (13. Ma Jun 84’)
Substitutes not used: 4. Jin Xia Moei, 6. Zhang Na, 12. Guan Jing Jing, 17. Pang Feng Yue, 18. Weng Xiao Jie (RGK), 20. Zhou Gao Ping