Alanna Kennedy hugs teammate Mackenzie Arnold.
Alanna Kennedy hugs teammate Mackenzie Arnold.

Matildas survive almighty Asian Cup scare

AUSTRALIA was just four minutes from a major international disaster until stopper Alanna Kennedy saved the Matildas from a premature exit at the AFC Asian Cup in Jordan.

And it had to be Sam Kerr to take Australia to the Asian Cup final when she scored the decisive penalty in a shootout after McKenzie Arnold saved three spot kicks from a Thai team that held the Matildas to a 2-2 draw after 120 minutes.

Australia won the shootout 3-1 after the Matildas were on the brink of a huge semi-final shock loss to a team they belted 5-0 less than a month ago in Perth.

Thailand was on its way to stunning Australia, leading 2-1 at King Abdullah II Stadium on Wednesday until Kennedy's powerful header from an Elise Kellond-Knight corner took the tie into extra-time.

The Thais didn't crumble in that final 30 minutes but a miss from substitute Kerr in the 118th minute was a tell tale sign that Australia was having a horror night.

Australia will now march towards a third Asian Cup final on Friday at Amman Stadium but not before launching an internal inquiry as to how a team which had been lauded as a future FIFA World Cup champion next year in France was tested by a minnow of football.

All of the first three goals were scored by the Thai team.

Thailand being reduced to 10 players in the 87th minute when Wilaiporn Boothduang was expelled for picked up a second yellow card added to more misery on a night which will remain long in the memory for all the wrong reasons despite the Australian win.

Alanna Kennedy’s booming header save Australia’s blushes.
Alanna Kennedy’s booming header save Australia’s blushes.

Thailand was all so close ousting the Matildas from the Asian Cup when Thongsombut Rattikan handed Thailand a 2-1 lead in the 62nd minute after pouncing on a comedy of errors in the 63rd minute.

It all started when a simple back pass from Kyah Simon to Arnold turned into an assist then she skied the ball off the side of her boot, Kennedy couldn't control the leather on the edge of the box before Thongsombut rifled the ball into the top corner.

Sam Kerr scored the decisive penalty.
Sam Kerr scored the decisive penalty.

Silawan Intamee then forced a save from Arnold in the 67th minute when she parried a 12m effort before Emily van Egmond was introduced off the bench in a bid to rescue the clash.

Kerr was also unloaded off the pine in the 70th minute for Emily Gielnik but with the clock ticking down the nation's sharpshooter watched an effort sail just past the upright in the 80th minute.

The first 45 minutes was arguably the worst since coach Alen Stajcic took over in 2014, four weeks before leading the Matildas to an Asian Cup loss to Japan in Vietnam.

The opening Matildas goal papered the first-half cracks.

It was an own goal from Thailand's Kanchanaporn Saenkhun that broke the deadlock when her attempt to clear an Emily Gielnik cross from a short corner involving skipper Lisa de Vanna skimmed off her head and into the top corner in the 17th minute.

It appeared to be the goal which would settle a very nervous Matildas but instead Thailand took the game to the favourites with an equaliser which stunned Australia.

Teammates get around Kennedy (L).
Teammates get around Kennedy (L).

When Kanjana Sung-Ngoen looped a 30m ball over the outstretched arms of Arnold after the Matildas were stretched from a hopeful long ball over a high defensive line to the striker in the 20th minute, disbelief engulfed the Australian camp.

It was just the second goal Thailand had scored in six previous meetings and one which appeared to affect the Matildas psychologically.

AFC Asian Cup semi-finals

Australia 2 (Kanchanaporn Saenkhun OG 17m, Alanna Kennedy 91m) 2 Thailand (Kanjana Sung-Ngoen 20m, Thongsombut Rattikan 63m) (Australia win 3-1 on a shootout AET) at King Abdullah II Stadium - Referee. Edita Mirabidova (Uzbekistan)

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