The Matildas must settle for second after a beautiful, late strike from Kumi Yokoyama secured Japan the 2018 AFC Asian Cup.
These sides met only days ago in the group stage with a 1-1 result enough for both teams on that occasion.
In this match, Australia was dominant in every aspect except the scoreboard. The Matildas had a chance from the spot in the opening 15 minutes but Elise Kellond-Knight’s penalty was saved.
It was this impenetrability of the Japanese defence, plus a superbly taken, well-timed winner, which saw the Nadeshiko nab their second Asian Cup trophy.
1. THE MATILDAS BEST PERFORMANCE
It was noticeable from the get go. The high intensity, the passing combinations and the shots on goal; the Matildas looked on. It was a joy to watch after the frustration and craziness that had preceded it.
In the post-match press conference, Stajcic said “all the players dominated within their positions” and that it was the best game the team has played in the tournament.
Clare Polkinghorne was magnificent in defence. She and Alanna Kennedy were more often than not cutting out Japanese attacks before they’d begun.
The midfield trio of Elise Kellond-Knight, Emily van Egmond and Tameka Butt excelled in their respective roles while Chloe Logarzo and Sam Kerr had their moments.
It was the kind of performance where concerns about profligacy were almost non-existent because there was an expectation that the pressure and patience would be rewarded.
However, Japan put on a clinic in defensive solidity and taking chances when they arrive.
2. A FAMILIAR WALL
For rusted on Matildas’ fans the result will feel like a bit of déjà vu; this is the second time in a row Australia has lost by a lone goal to Japan in the Asian Cup final.
But that feeling of familiarity extended throughout this year’s tournament to the defensive pressure the Matildas faced in three of the five games.
It began with matchday one and a disciplined South Korea whose ability to restrict the Matildas’ space kept the game scoreless.
The group against Japan was a similar story with the Nadeshiko’s defence more than up to the task of shutting Australia down and capitalising on their own chances.
So while the Matildas looked switched on and hungry to play, they were met with roadblocks at every turn in this final.
For every shot on goal there was a Japanese boot, or leg, or torso, or gloved hand stopping a key pass or shot.
3. WHERE TO FROM NOW?
While only one of the two key objectives was met, that being World Cup qualification, there is so much that came out of this competition.
“There’s a lot of good things we can take away”, Stajcic said to the media.
Australia did dominate games and they were able to grind out results even when they played well below their capabilities.
“We haven’t played our best football at different times," Stajcic said.
"We’ve lacked that cutting edge in the penalty box,” he added.
These games give the Matildas things to work on all in building towards the World Cup in France.
Cutting edge in the penalty box and breaking down solid defences are just a few of them.
The loss is undeniably disappointing but the team will use it as a learning tool and be better for it.
All Images credit: Rachel Bach