Ante Milicic says a move back to her preferred position has reinvigorated Emily van Egmond after a hat-trick from the Matildas mainstay fired Australia into the final stage of Olympic qualification.
Last Friday’s assist queen turned goalscorer at Sydney’s Campbelltown Sports Stadium on Monday night as the Matildas mauled Thailand 6-0 in their group qualifier for Tokyo 2020.
With Chelsea superstar Sam Kerr again limited to a bench cameo, van Egmond broke the deadlock with a quick-fire double just before halftime before adding a third in the 70th minute.
Coach Milicic was thrilled with Melbourne City and Orlando Pride midfielder van Egmond’s performance, which backed up her three-assists showing in the Matildas’ big first-up win over Taiwan.
“She’s a No.10 and that’s why we’re trying everything we can to keep her there,” he said.
“She’s got goals in her game. She’s got assists. She’s intelligent.
“(I’m) really delighted with how she’s going and she really deserved that hat-trick tonight.”
Monday’s victory sets up a blockbuster clash with unbeaten China at Bankwest Stadium on Thursday night, with the winner topping group B.
Despite sitting above the Steel Roses on goal difference, Milicic insists he wouldn’t be satisfied with a draw.
“If we’re going to be a serious team, we’ve got to win three games from three,” he said.
“Nothing changes for us with the scenario. We’ll play the same way. There’s no buffer.”
Although already out of contention for a top-two finish, Thailand frustrated Australia in the first half as they had in the 2018 Asian Cup semi-final before losing in a shootout.
Speedy fullback Ellie Carpenter ran rampant down the right but both last start hat-trick hero Caitlin Foord and van Egmond couldn’t capitalise on early chances.
Forward Kyah Simon came closest to breaking the deadlock just on the half-hour mark before van Egmond tucked away two crosses from Carpenter.
Milicic was unfazed by the Matildas’ lack of potency in front of goal, but warned it would come back to bite them eventually if unresolved.
“I’m just pleased that we’re creating clear cut chances,” Milicic said.
“Tonight they weren’t half-chances. It could have easily been a lot more.
“(I’m) not concerned at this stage but of course there’s an understanding you don’t get those chances against the better teams.”
After introducing Kerr and Hayley Raso after a limp start to the second half, the Matildas stepped on Thailand’s jugular with four quick-fire goals.
The double change worked a treat as Simon scored and van Egmond followed suit before Raso tucked away Kerr’s low cross into the top right corner.
Simon completed her double to round out the rout as Australia booked a home-and-away playoff as they inched closer to clinching an Olympics berth.