Australia’s Matildas snatch late goal to draw Olympic Games warm-up clash against China

The Matildas narrowly avoided a surprise defeat in their Olympic warm-up match against China at the Adelaide Oval.

In front of a record crowd of 52,912 spectators, the Matildas were facing a hopeless situation when the visitors took a surprise lead in the first half through Zhang Linyan.

The home side struggled through the game without making a breakthrough until a Mary Fowler free kick rebounded to the experienced Michelle Heyman in the 95th minute, who equalised.

This capped off a tough evening for the hugely popular Australian team, which saw Caitlin Foord and Clare Hunt both suffer injuries during the game.

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Heyman, 35, volleyed the ball home from close range in the fifth minute of injury time after a mistake by Chinese goalkeeper Xu Huan forced a free kick on the edge of the penalty area seconds before the final whistle.

Fowler’s free-kick bounced across the six-yard box before Heyman scored as the Matildas delighted their screaming fans who had come to watch an uncoordinated performance.

“We wanted to continue to maintain that never-give-up attitude,” Heyman told Paramount Plus.

“We should have moved the ball a little faster, it wasn’t our best performance.”

The reigning AFC Asian Cup women’s champions surprised the Matildas after just 30 minutes.

Zhang Linyan scored the first goal with a clean volley from six metres after a brilliant pass from Wurigumula from the wing, after battling for the ball with Australia’s Kaitlyn Torpey.

The goal dampened the mood at the Adelaide Oval as the Chinese took a 1-0 lead into the break after Australia’s line-up was constantly being changed, which appeared to unsettle the home team.

China was the better team in the first 45 minutes and started the second half very organized.

But Matildas’ rising star Fowler, who started the game on the left wing before moving into midfield, had a superb chance to equalise in the 56th minute but was denied by Huan’s brave gloves on the edge of the six-yard box.

In an effort to save the game, Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson sent five proven stars from the bench onto the field after an hour, with Steph Catley, Foord, Hayley Raso, Ellie Carpenter and Kyra Cooney Cross adding pace, aggression and urgency to the lineup.

In the 73rd minute, Raso was entitled to a penalty after her heels were apparently touched in the penalty area, but referee Yujeong Kim was not fazed by the Australian’s protest.

The attendance almost surpassed the 53,008 fans who attended Adelaide United’s friendly match against English giants Liverpool at the same venue in 2015.

Almost 18 years ago, the Matildas faced China in the final of the AFC Asian Cup, drawing around 5,000 fans to what was considered a huge crowd at Hindmarsh Stadium.

In 2019, 10,342 fans watched the Matildas’ 1-0 win over Chile at Hindmarsh – at the time a record crowd for a women’s football match in South Africa.

With only 18 spots available on the Matildas’ football squad for the 2024 Paris Games, Gustavsson may have to rethink his game plan before deciding who to drop from the current squad of 23 players.

Charli Grant of South Australia has earned a spot to prove her worth ahead of the announcement of the 18-man Olympic squad on Tuesday.

While brilliant defender Carpenter, who played for French club Lyon in last weekend’s UEFA Champions League final, started on the bench, Grant performed admirably after making her debut for England’s Tottenham Hotspur this year, but had to watch her teammate Linyan score the first goal.

Grant ended her shift in the 62nd minute for Carpenter.

Former Matildas head coach Ante Milicic appeared to opt for a cautious approach on the bench in his debut game for China.

His team initially refused to apply pressure as the Matildas continually opted to move the ball from defence to attack, leaving the door open for counter-attacks.

After the home team was lulled into this game plan, China increased the pressure after 15 minutes, forcing the Matildas to rethink Gustavsson’s strategy after Linyan scored on the half-hour mark.

The Chinese proved to be an extremely stubborn opponent until Heyman stepped up with the last-minute equaliser, sparking mixed reactions on social media.

“Happy birthday Fowler… that kick into the box was a blast,” wrote one fan on X.

“That was a pretty tough game, hopefully it will be a bit more exciting on Monday evening!” said another, looking forward to the second friendly match against China.

“Didn’t deserve the draw. A really poor performance overall and shows why Tony doesn’t like to change his teams. The substitutes didn’t do anything today that suggests they should be on the plane to Paris,” added a third.

Read related topics:AdelaideChina

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