Stajcic praises Westfield Matildas' character following Japan draw

Westfield Matildas boss Alen Stajcic has commended his side’s character after a late Sam Kerr equalizer rescued a 1-1 draw with Japan in Friday evening’s AFC Women’s Asian Cup clash at the Amman International Stadium.

Stajcic had demanded more ‘mongrel’ from his side prior to the meeting with the Asian heavyweights and said the late comeback underlined the fighting spirit of the team.

The result means the Westfield Matildas are through to the 2018 AFC Women’s Asian Cup semi-finals while also securing passage to the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France.

Stajcic was eager to point out the quality of his side’s performance despite trailing midway through the second stanza after Mizuko Sakaguchi’s fine opener for Japan on the hour mark.

‘’I think everyone would agree that Australia always plays with a good spirit, positivity and good intent and I think we did that again today,” he said.

“Certainly the first 25 minutes I thought we should’ve had two or three goals – even just before half time there was a free header that got headed over the bar.

“When I look back they only had maybe three chances in the game? That’s an extremely low amount for a world class team to have against us.

“We set a target of keeping teams under six and to have held Japan to three we’ve done a really good job – we nearly lost the game on that chance but thankfully we got great character in our team and we fought until the end.”

Although Stajcic heaped praise on his side’s pressing game and overall defensive performance, the Westfield Matildas' boss said there was plenty of room to improve their efficiency and cohesion in the final third.

“Japan has the best technical players in the world, we know if we can press a team like Japan we can press anyone,” he said.

“We’ve had so many injuries in team and trying to put people back in and finding rhythm again is taking time, but at the same time we’re playing against world class teams.

“I’ve said for a long time Korea and Japan are very good teams and there’s no shame in getting a draw against Japan.”

With Australia, Japan and Korea Republic all level on five points at the conclusion of the group stage the tiebreaker mechanism sees Australia and Japan progress to the semi-finals having scored the most goals between the three tied teams.

The Westfield Matildas edged Japan on goal difference and as a result will face Thailand on Tuesday 17 April at King Abdullah II Stadium.

Alanna Kennedy