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Three Burning Questions: Matildas v China PR

by Ben Somerford on Feb 13, 2020

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The Matildas may have already sealed their passage to the Tokyo Olympics play-offs but, make no mistake, Thursday’s final qualifier against China PR is crucial.

It’s crucial because Australia will secure top spot in the group with either a win or a draw on Thursday night at Bankwest Stadium.

And top spot is important because it means Australia would avoid playing South Korea (ranked 20th) in the play-offs and instead meet Vietnam (ranked 32nd) for a spot in Tokyo later this year.

Don’t get me wrong, Vietnam won’t be easy beats, but they’ll be much much simpler than the Koreans.

GGArmy’s Ben Somerford asks three burning questions ahead of the final decisive qualifier.

Do we go for the win?
With a draw against the Steel Roses being enough to finish top, there will naturally be a temptation to play slightly more conservative. Matildas boss Ante Milicic won’t admit that publicly, but there will momentary reservations among the players, torn between pushing forward or holding back. You can’t blame them.

But Milicic’s job is also to ensure this side plays the best way in order to qualify and indecisiveness won’t help that aim. He needs to instill a clear mantra in his players and he’s been around long enough to know that.

China, ranked 15th in the world, have caused the Matildas some issues in the recent past but we have won the past four encounters and are unbeaten against the Chinese in eight meetings. On home turf, Australia should be capable of winning, assuming we have the right attitude.

Does the Coronavirus issue have an impact on the Chinese?
Directly it clearly does with key Chinese pair Wang Shuang and Yao Wei stuck quarantined in Wuhan, leaving their side under-strength.

Indirectly also it may have an impact in a round-about way too. China did win their opening two matches comfortably, 6-1 over Thailand and 5-0 over Chinese Taipei. It’s been an impressive response after the side was quarantined in a Brisbane hotel for more than a week which couldn’t have been good for their conditioning, left to train in corridors.

But it’s worth noting coach Jia Xiuquan used the same starting XI in both games and only 15 players from his entire squad so far, while Milicic rotated his troops with six starting changes between matches. With three games in six days for both sides, that may tell.

Is it time to start Sam Kerr?
The Matildas superstar has shaken off a quad issue to manage two 30-minute cameos off the bench so far. She’s only scored once while her teammates have piled on 12 further goals, but it’s a simpler task to score against Thailand or Chinese Taipei, than it is the Steel Roses, so Milicic will be mighty tempted.

She didn’t get her name on the scoresheet against Thailand but Kerr created two off the bench, with four goals scored after her introduction, so she’s making an impact.

With that in mind, expect Milicic to unleash Kerr from the start. And if he needed further evidence to start her, it’s worth noting she’s scored five goals in the Matildas’ past three encounters with China.