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Japan loom as Matildas' final test

The Matildas are perhaps Australia's best international sporting team. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
19th April, 2018
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The Asian Cup has its dream final on Saturday (3pm AEST), when the Matildas take on arch-rivals Japan in a battle of the continent’s best two sides.

Australia has surged through the rankings in four years, returning to the Asian Cup final as a smarter and savvier team, eager to reverse the 1-0 loss to Japan four years ago.

The Nadeshiko – as reigning champions and two-time World Cup finalists this decade – will be out to enforce their claim as Asia’s classiest outfit.

It should be a titanic battle, and one Matildas coach Alen Stajcic can’t wait for.

“Before I started coaching the Matildas, Japan was the team I admired the most for skills and the way they move the ball and know the game,” he told AAP.

“And now it’s a fantastic rivalry.

“They beat us at the last Asian Cup and the World Cup.

“We beat them in the Olympic Games qualifiers in their home which would have hurt them.

“These were great games but in the final they will mean very little. It’s all about who puts in the performance on the day.”

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The need to peak on game day was very evident from Australia’s semi-final with Thailand.

While Japan strolled through by defeating China 3-1, the Matildas needed penalties to get by the plucky outsiders.

Stajcic was mortified by the performance but said all would be forgotten with a win.

“We can’t let that game define us. We’ve played 18 or 19 games over the last two years and lost two and won just about all the rest,” he said.

Stajcic revealed there was more to the semi-final line-up than met the eye.

Sam Kerr, Steph Catley and Emily van Egmond – who each came on from the bench – were kept out of the team due to niggling injuries, with the Matildas’ lacklustre performance forcing Stajcic to bring them on as second-half substitutes.

“We had to roll the dice at some part of the game when it was so tight,” he said.

All three are in the mix for the final, with Stajcic saluting his team’s effort over 120 minutes and penalties.

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“They got through fine. It wasn’t ideal but the next couple days rest, let’s hope they’re at 100 per cent,” he said.

“Chloe Logarzo – she ran over 15 kilometres and she was crook as well through the last 45 minutes.

“To get through that level of work in that moment in a hot day shows her resilience and it’s symbolic of our team. She never gave up and neither do we.”