HONG KONG, April 14 (Reuters) - Australia coach Alen Stajcic hailed his team’s spirit and unity as they fought back to gain a late 1-1 draw with Japan to qualify for the finals of next year’s Women’s World Cup.
Reigning Asian Women’s Player of the Year Sam Kerr scored with just four minutes remaining to earn the Matildas the point they need to advance to the finals in France alongside the Japanese as both nations progressed to the semi-finals of the Women’s Asian Cup.
“Thankfully we’ve got great character in our team and great spirit,” said Stajcic. “We fought until the end, until we got that goal back.
“Not only is there good skill, good fitness and good speed in our team, there’s also good team spirit and the will to fight to the end, so I’m really proud of the group for that quality that we have.”
Mizuho Sakaguchi had given the Japanese the lead in the 63rd and a win for Asako Takakura’s side coupled with a victory for South Korea over Vietnam in the day’s other game would have seen the Australians pushed into a World Cup playoff with the Philippines.
But Kerr struck in the 86th minute to ensure Australia join Japan, China and Thailand as four of Asia’s five qualifiers, with the Koreans taking on the Philippines on Monday for the final berth.
“Since we became a new team I have spoken with our players about Nadeshiko pride and I think we showed it today, but still it’s not enough,” said Takakura.
“There are still many things lacking. We have to try more to show better football and to grow more.” (Reporting by Michael Church, Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)