Matildas draw 1-1 with China after Michelle Heyman’s stoppage-time equaliser

The Matildas’ final preparations for the Paris Olympics have got off to a rusty start after a scrappy 1-1 draw with China in Adelaide on Friday.

Australia’s coach Tony Gustavsson fielded a largely experimental line-up for the opening hour of the Adelaide Oval fixture, but they were upstaged by the reigning Asian Cup champions, with a well-organised and disciplined China keeping the Matildas shotless for the first half.

And while a sell-out 52,912 people had packed in to see the Matildas strut their stuff, they were instead silenced in the 30th minute after Chinese winger Zhang Linyan opened the scoring, volleying home a cross from Central Coast Mariners winger Wurigumula.

But veteran striker Michelle Heyman came to the rescue in stoppage-time of the first half, tapping in from a goal-mouth scramble after a Mary Fowler free kick was fumbled by China’s goalkeeper.

Before the match, Gustavsson said he remained undecided on four spots for the 18-woman squad to contest the Paris Olympics starting in late July. The team’s starting XI reflected his need to test out those peripheral players, beginning without big guns Caitlin Foord, Steph Catley, Ellie Carpenter, Hayley Raso and Kyra Cooney-Cross.

But the team that started the game struggled to break down a tightly-packed Chinese defence, and regularly coughed up possession before being punished by quick transitional counter-attacks.

While the momentum of the game began to swing after five senior players were substituted on in the 60th minute, winger Caitlin Foord lasted just 15 minutes, leaving the field after being felled in a tackle, despite appearing in no great discomfort.

Following a tepid opening 29 minutes, China struck on the half-hour when a fast break down the right flank left Australia’s Kaitlyn Torpey sprawled in the grass after grappling with powerful striker Wurigumula.

As the pair jostled, Torpey slipped and fell to ground — replays showed a slight tug on her jersey from her opponent — while Wurigumula was quick to recover from the contact, her follow-up cross into the box deflected into the path of Zhang, who scored with a reflex right footer.

After half time, Australia showed far greater attacking intent and almost had a reward in the 56th minute when Cortnee Vine swung a cross into the box.

The ball landed near Fowler who was set to pull the trigger and shoot, but advancing China keeper Xu Huan knocked the ball away. Six minutes later, Gustavsson made five substitutions, summoning Catley, Foord, Raso, Carpenter and Kyra Cooney-Cross.

The injection of the Matildas mainstays had instant impact, with the Australians crafting a series of scoring chances through Raso and Fowler, though a scrambling China kept the Matildas scoreless.

But in a bizarre series of events in stoppage time, where Australia won a free kick just outside China’s penalty spot after the goalkeeper slid out to collect an innocuous ball only to hand-ball it and give a set piece away, a powerful striker by Fowler was fumbled by Xu and duly poked home by Heyman.

The Matildas meet China again in Sydney on Monday night and Gustavsson will announce his Olympic squad the following day.

Check out how the game unfolded in our live blog below.

Key events

See you Monday!

I still think Heyman’s (and Fowler’s) issues tonight were more about distribution. They both should be on the plane to Paris. But maybe those in midfield (who aren’t feeding through enough quality ball) should be a bit worried – they need to step up and do better in the next leg.

– Ingrid

I think tonight that those who are already locked in to the Olympic squad are there for a reason…not sure any of the questions Tony had about the remaining four players were really answered tonight

– Tania

I think we’re all on the same page about tonight’s game: the Matildas definitely didn’t show enough against China to convince us of anything, so they’ll really need to step it up in the second match in Sydney on Monday to settle out nerves about their readiness for the Olympics.

We’ll have a match report out shortly, but for now, thanks so much for engaging with the blog tonight, and I’ll see you all again here on Monday night from 7:00pm AEST!

Until then, enjoy your weekend, and gooooo Tillies!!!

So what did you make of that?

Redemption rocks. Phew! Okay, how do you pick an optimal 18 squad out of that? I guess that’s why Tony’s paid the big bucks. More questions than answers, maybe the answers’ll arrive on Monday. Thanks Sam!

– Big Ben

High energy and effort leads to chances and finally a goal. Why did they play so conservatively for the first 88 minutes? Raso showed the way

– Tobi

Matildas lack quality. Any squad with EVE and Polkinghorne hasn’t hope against the new top nations.

– The bill

Great to see Michelle Heyman score at the death to salvage the draw, she’ll definitely be on the plane to Paris in July.

– Adam

What’s the answer? Give them time (and hope Ford’s injury heals)

– Betty

Whenever the Matildas have two-game windows, they do tend to be quite rusty and slow in the first of the two matches. So in that context, tonight’s game isn’t a huge surprise, nor is it a shock given the five changes Tony Gustavsson made to the starting line-up.

And yet… with Paris less than two months away… the Matildas don’t really have time to be this sloppy, do they? They certainly won’t be forgiven for it against the USA, Germany, and Zambia.

But who do you reckon impressed tonight? Did any player convince you that they should go to the Olympics? Or do we need another game to figure it out?

Heyman redemption!

Let the scoreboard show that it was Michelle Heyman who equalised. I won’t hear a bad word said about her! (even if she didn’t have a great game 🙂 ⚽️💚💛

– Leo

michelle heyman doesn’t miss in front of goal! she might not be sam kerr but she should be in paris as a CF.

– alex

– Samantha Lewis

I was literally typing a post about Michelle Heyman’s game tonight, and then she just goes and scores.

Maybe that’s why she goes to Paris: because she can be there right until the very end.

Full time: Australia 1 – 1 China

The commentators curse Sam…Michelle Heyman unseen all night…bobs up in the 95min…extraordinary!

– stumcin

Yeeeeeeesssssssss!!!! 🥳🥳🥳

– Tania

YYYYYYYYY3EEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAASHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!

– Natty

FInally!!!!!!

– M

I feel that goal should be given to the china goalkeeper. She put a lot of effort to make australia score

– First

Michelle is back online!!!

– Micko

Geez. Oztraylia. You got damn lucky with that goal at the end! Coulda/shoulda done better. And sooner.

– Ingrid

Whew

– sandye

Hurray

– jag

Just like the last time they played, a stoppage-time equaliser rescues the Matildas after a pretty sluggish display.

Absolute scenes from the sold-out stadium – and from all of you – right at the death!

94′ GOAL AUSTRALIA

MICHELLE HEYMAN EQUALISES AFTER A TRULY BIZARRE SERIES OF EVENTS!

A free kick just outside China’s box was awarded after their goalkeeper came sprinting off her line and seemed to hand-ball it after a miscontrol?

Mary Fowler stood over the ball, sending her rocket of a right foot through the set piece towards the front post, where the keeper isn’t able to catch it and the deflection falls right to the feet of Heyman, who pokes it home.

1-1!

93′ Where are our goals coming from?

The hole left by Sam Kerr’s absence is starting to look bigger and bigger with every minute that goes by tonight!

– stumcin

Hopefully Caitlin Foord doesn’t have a serious injury, this would be disastrous for the Matildas 55 days out from the first game in the Olympics.

– Adam

As I wrote at the start of tonight’s blog, the Matildas really haven’t figured out the answer of how to score goals without Sam Kerr.

As Adam says, this injury to Caitlin Foord is a worry. She was massive for the Tillies during the World Cup when Kerr was unavailable. Mary Fowler’s wobbly form in this game is a concern, as has Michelle Heyman’s kinda-nothing performance.

So what’s the answer?

91′ Chance China!

Another counter-attack from China sees Wu Chengshu through one-on-one with Clare Hunt, who’s backtracking into her own box, trying to hold up the energised substitute.

Chengsu twists and turns and finds a half-space, swinging her foot through the ball, but she doesn’t quite connect and it fizzes into Mackenzie Arnold’s hands.

Five minutes of added time

87′ Hunt gets crunched

A wildly spinning aerial ball from Hayley Raso that deflected off a Chinese player falls dangerously towards the top of the box, where Clare Hunt and substitute Wu Chengshu both race towards it, trying to nick it out of the air and do something.

Hunt is the tallest of the two and is able to head it away in time, but Chengshu barrels straight through the centre-back, sending her crashing into the grass.

There’s a couple words exchanged between the Chinese striker and Steph Catley afterwards as Hunt catches her breath. Not so friendly after all, this.

86′ Big Woman Up Top

I don’t know how you folks feel, but when I see Alanna Kennedy thrown up front into the centre-forward position, that’s when I know that Tony Gustavsson is running out of ideas.

Like, I get it. She’s tall and good in the air. But so is Michelle Heyman. Is this really Plan B if the Matildas are behind during the Olympics?

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85′ China substitutions

Mengwen Li is off for Mengyu Shen.

Shuang Wang Shuang is replaced by Cong Yuan.

And Yanwen Wang is off for Jiali Tang.

82′ Michelle Heyman’s gone missing

Another watcher/reader (Olive) mentioned that Mary Fowler was “struggling to do her Mary magic here”. I wonder if both her and Michelle Heyman are suffering from not being fed enough good balls? Hopefully, the subs will change that and improve distribution.

– Ingrid

Is hayman in her space jam version?

– First

She’s really just been a warm body out there for this second half, hasn’t she? It’s like the game has been happening around her and she’s just kinda been watching from a really awesome front-row seat.

I do think that the build-up play has affected her tonight, though. She barely connected with the two midfielders in the first half, and now is having to deliberately involve herself in plays to try and get anywhere near the ball.

She leaps onto a moment now, spinning on the ball after a China error, and takes a couple charging steps into the box, but just as she tries to shoot, a Chinese defender gets a toe on the ball and it spins into the keeper’s arms.

80′ Chance Australia!

They’re throwing more bodies forward now, trying to overload China’s backline and create a bit of chaos.

Another corner is taken short, with Fowler delivering the ball to the very back of the box, where Hayley Raso nods it back towards the penalty spot.

Kennedy is there, and tries an acrobatic sideways kick, but she doesn’t quite catch it and it spins over the bar.

79′ Not many beliEVErs on the blog tonight

Surprised TG left EVE out there….thoughts?

– Tania

not sure why tony is so keen on emily van egmond? she cannot play as a striker and as a midfielder not anymore effective than clare wheeler or yallop…

– alex

Honestly? I agree. Emily Van Egmond doesn’t seem to have the speed or style that you associate with this high-intensity Matildas team, so it’s odd that she’s played such a pivotal role in the side for so long.

78′ Aaaaaand she misses

Kennedy goes for it, trying to whip the ball up and over China’s wall and into the top corner, but it flies over the crossbar instead.

78′ Matildas win a dangerous free kick

Emily Van Egmond was clipped from behind by a clumsy Chinese player just outside the top of the box.

Steph Catley and Alanna Kennedy are standing over it. China have five players in the wall…

Crowd: 52,912

Hectic. Well done, Adelaide!

76′ Australia substitution

Uh oh.

Caitlin Foord, who came on only 15 minutes ago, goes down in the grass, gesturing towards her hamstring.

A minute later, she walks off the field, replaced by Brisbane Roar winger Sharn Frier.

75′ China substitution

Goal-scorer Zhang Linyan is off for Liu Yanqui.

74′ Chance Australia!

A more characteristic passage from Australia with Ellie Carpenter slotting through the speedy Hayley Raso down the right wing.

She cuts the ball back from the by-line, aiming for the penalty spot, where Mary Fowler is steaming in to meet it.

But Carpenter is there instead, and gets in the way of Fowler’s swing, so she doesn’t quite meet it properly and the ball deflects off a China defender and bounces away up-field instead.

Bugger.

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Inexperienced Matildas fall to Canada 5-0 in opening friendly

The Matildas have recorded their heaviest defeat in 17 months, with an inexperienced line-up thrashed 5-0 by Canada.

Nichelle Prince scored a first-half brace to send Canada on its way, with Cloé Lacasse, Simi Awujo and Adriana Leon completing the rout inside 62 minutes on Saturday AEDT.

It was the Matildas’ biggest defeat and poorest performance since a similarly inexperienced line-up posted a 7-0 humiliation to Spain in 2022.

Coach Tony Gustavsson had promised an experimental squad and no players from the 4-0 Women’s World Cup win over Canada were named in the starting line-up.

Sam Kerr and Mackenzie Arnold were out injured, while Caitlin Foord, Steph Catley, Mary Fowler and Kyra Cooney-Cross were among those benched amid heavy workloads at club level.

The starting line-up in Langford had a combined 429 caps, with 281 of those between Clare Polkinghorne and Tameka Yallop.

Charlize Rule and Sarah Hunter debuted at right-back and holding midfield and were among six players with fewer than 20 caps.

On a sodden artificial pitch at Starlight Stadium, the disjointed Matildas struggled to get to grips with the surface, or a brilliant Canada.

The Matildas were overrun in midfield and had no first-half shots to Canada’s 13 and it took just 10 minutes for the hosts to take the lead.

A heavy back-pass from Rule sold Polkinghorne into trouble and, as the centre-back got the ball caught under her feet, Prince pounced.

The striker pinched the ball away and coolly finished into the bottom corner.

Teagan Micah made three brilliant saves, denying Leon in the 24th and 31st minutes and Vanessa Gilles in the 27th.

But in the 43rd minute, Ashley Lawrence burst down the right and cut back to Prince, whose first-time shot beat a disappointed Micah at the near post.

Four minutes into the second half, the defending Olympic champions all but sealed victory when Hunter dawdled on the ball and Lacasse pinched it off her, before bursting to score.

In the 55th minute, Rule’s clearing header fell to Awujo, who had time to take a touch and fire home from distance.

Seven minutes later, Leon completed the rout when she drifted unmarked between a scattered defence to score.

Gustavsson turned to more experience in Fowler, Cooney-Cross, Katrina Gorry and Alanna Kennedy for the final half-hour.

The Matildas had their first shot through Fowler in the 74th minute, with Kailen Sheridan making a comfortable save.

In her second-last match, retiring Canada great Christine Sinclair entered the fray in the 62nd minute.

The second friendly is in Vancouver on Wednesday afternoon AEDT.

AAP

Look back at how the action unfolded in our blog.

Key events

Final thoughts

Football is a cycle, and just as we saw the Matildas go through some growing pains in their early days under Tony Gustavsson, this was another moment in which we were reminded of what the next generation of players coming through the ranks looks like.

Commentator Andy Harper isn’t as forgiving of this result, though, the biggest loss Australia have copped since that 7-0 drubbing at the hands of Spain last year.

But just like that game, this was an experimental team: Five players with 15 or fewer caps, and with a number of key senior players benched until the hour mark.

“When you make bulk changes, bulk experiments, with so many young debutants, it makes it really difficult for them to shine,” Amy Chapman says on the broadcast.

She reckons a better balance needed to be struck by drip-feeding young players into the senior starting side, citing Kyra Cooney-Cross’s partnership with Katrina Gorry on the field as a big reason why she’s come such a long way so quickly. Maybe we’ll see that in the next game on Tuesday.

That’s not to say Canada weren’t excellent. They were a team who have clearly played a lot of football together, and who will be thrilled to put five past the team that defeated them at the World Cup six months ago.

The field itself was tough; a slick artificial surface in the frosty rain made it really difficult for both sides, and you could see the Matildas’ confidence wane as the game wore on.

They registered just two shots all game — both coming through Mary Fowler when she came on — which, you’d hope, will be a focus for the side in their final match of the year next week.

All in all, given the gulf in experience and quality between the two sides, it’s perhaps no surprise that it ended the way it did.

How they bounce back and what changes they make before the rematch on Tuesday will determine whether the Matildas can finish their remarkable 2023 with a bang or a whimper.

Until then, thanks for joining me. Enjoy the rest of your weekend.

Full-time: Canada 5 – 0 Australia

What’s next?

Is there much to be gained by serving up another experimental line up on Wednesday Sam? Surely we field our strongest line up to see if we can spoil the Christine Sinclair farewell party. A big crowd deserves a competitive game.

– stumcin

It’s a good question. I think it depends on a few things: 1) how the younger players pull up after this game, 2) how the more experienced players are feeling, and 3) what Tony Gustavsson wants to work on.

I can see a situation where there’s a combination of the “two” teams we saw tonight. Where, say, a Sarah Hunter plays alongside a Katrina Gorry, or a Remy Siemsen starts up front alongside a Hayley Raso or Mary Fowler.

Seeing how some of the individuals slot into the regular starting team would be the way I approach it, personally. But I’m not Tony. So we’ll have to wait and see.

90′ 2 minutes of added time

89′ The game is winding down now

Both teams have mostly cancelled each other out in the last 15 minutes. In terms of the scoreline, it’s well out of sight, and you feel that the substitutions Gustavsson made were partly made to save the confidence of the younger players. Those on the field now didn’t really need minutes, and they’re not playing with the kind of hunger that they may have had the scores been a little closer. That’s OK though. So long as nobody gets injured, that’s what matters.

84′ Canada try the counterattack

Christine Sinclair picks up the ball in midfield and turns before charging forward after Australia’s midfielders over-committed.

Young winger Bianca St. George is tearing down the right wing, and is spotted by Sinc, who delivers a delightful outside-of-the-foot through-ball into her teammate’s path.

She tears into the box, but Alanna Kennedy is in lockstep with her. The towering centre-back throws herself across the grass as she anticipates the cross, but St. Georges loses control of the ball and it trickles out for a goal kick.

80′ Canada 5 – 0 Australia

The Matildas have looked much more composed since those substitutions were made just after the hour, but Canada aren’t letting them back into the game.

While they’re not charging forward with quite the same energy or savagery as they did early on, they still don’t look super fazed by Australia’s fresh bodies, passing the ball calmly around the back and out onto the wings before recycling it back again.

The Matildas aren’t giving up – Mary Fowler had another penalty-box entry about a minute ago – but this seems to mostly be about damage control now.

77′ Tekkers Buchanan

The Chelsea centre-back looks to be at sea, on the ball with her back to goal as Amy Sayer pressures her from behind, but the veteran does a couple of lovely step-overs and wiggles away from the young Matilda, taking on three other Aussies and jinking a lovely pass through them all.

They’re just toying with us now …

76′ Substitution Australia

Hayley Raso comes on in place of Tameka Yallop.

73′ And just as I say that!

Mary Fowler receives an incisive pass from the right wing, turning into the D at the top of the box and rocketing her foot through the rubber.

It’s almost too straight a shot, though, and it slams right into the chest of goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan for her first save of the night.

That’s something, I guess…

71′ Canada 5 – 0 Australia

With 20 minutes left, the Matildas have a mountain to climb.

They’re not going to get back into this game, you’d think, but a start would be actually having some shots at goal.

I don’t remember the last time Australia went for so long in a game without registering a single shot.

Their possession has improved since the substitutions were made, but with Mary Fowler the only recognised senior attacker on the field – with Emily Van Egmond and Tameka Yallop supporting her – you wonder whether they’ll get close enough to register even one.

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