Australia has kept their title defence alive defeating Korea Republic 2-1 in an exciting fast paced semi final at Thong Nhat Stadium in Ho Chi Minh City.

The Matildas were faced with a significant challenge against an in-form Korean side who were considered warm favourites in the  in hot, humid conditions after finishing on top of Group B.

The first half was typical of a knock out match; cagey with both sides punching and counter punching as they tried to feel each other out.

Australia kept it tight at the back with Elise Kellond-Knight patrolling in front of the defence while going forward Lisa De Vanna and Katrina Gorry kept the Korean defence busy.

Scoring was opened in spectacular style by Australian star midfielder Katrina Gorry who scored her 3rd bomb of the tournament with a 20 yard scorcher at the 47th minute.

Gorry is a strong contender for player of the tournament. She has been a whirling dervish in attack but always committed to tracking back for a crucial covering tackle.

The goal was an exclamation mark on the dominance the Matildas were truly starting to assert but that advantage was wiped out minutes later when Kim Narae tumbled from a Michelle Heyman stray foot just inches inside the 18 yard box.

The resulting penalty was duly dispatched by tournament Golden Boot leader Park Eu Sun to big cheers from the Korean aligned crowd.

With the match back on level footing, Australia stepped it up again playing their best football of the tournament thus far.  Countless chances were created by midfielders Gorry, Emily Van Egmond and Kellond-Knight.  

The midfield worked well with strikers Michelle Heyman and the always dangerous De Vanna to exploit attacking avenues - whether by balls down the wings, chipping into space, sending in deep crosses and cutbacks.

The winner coming in the 77th minute from a curling Kellond-Knight corner helped by a dummy run by Sam Kerr confusing the Korean 'keeper. The goal gave Matildas the lead and an elated Kellond-Knight a well-earned first international goal.

Interview with Elise Kellond-Knight

[audio mp3=""][/audio]

Despite some nervous moments late, Australia held out to deny Korea Republic a place in their first final and give the Matildas a chance to go back to back.

Korea Republic, happy to play on the counter, were disciplined and coordinated in defence. In the midfield Jeon Ga Eul and captain Cho So Hyun were the driving forces when on the ball as they looked to feed Park Eun Sun and Jeon Minji.  

Park was a constant threat but Laura Alleway (with solid defensive support) was able to stifle the Korean attack which was mainly focused on a direct and central pathway to the Australian goals.

While pleased with certain aspects of his team's play, Korean coach Yoon Duk-yeo conceded there were some lessons for his side to learn.

“The physical aspect is something we’ll really need to look at and improve upon as there will be many powerful teams like Australia who we could potentially face at the World Cup, and we will have to find a way to cope with that.”

Australia’s semi final match showcased a number of positive and negative details about their progress so far in the Asian Cup tournament.

Number 1, the players are all working hard, all match in at times stifling conditions.

Interim Head Coach Alen Stajcic commented that he’s proud and happy, particularly with how they responded to the controversial penalty awarded against them.

“Our strategy was the same as it’s been throughout the tournament: keep possession, attack, score goals and always remain positive," said a pleased Alen Stajcic.

"We enacted that philosophy perfectly today and we worked so hard to put Korea Republic under pressure for 70 to 80 minutes of the match.”

For most of the game, they demonstrated exactly that. As in any game though, it didn’t all go their way. At the start of the match the Koreans controlled possession whilst the Matildas struggled to string together effective service.

Eventually the Matildas settled into a solid demonstration of connecting their passes, deconstructing set pieces of their opponents and breaking down Korea’s playmakers, which was a highlight of the match.

Matildas co-captain Clare Polkinghorne was able to largely nullify Park Eun Sun’s dominance across the game. Helped out occasionally by left back Stephanie Catley and the somewhat comical matchup between the towering Korean, who stands at 1.80m, against the diminutive Katrina Gorry who stands at 1.43m.

Lisa De Vanna showed why she’s regarded so highly in world football, running laps around her opponents throughout the match with her endless stamina.

Whether she was leading attacks or tracking back to strip opponents of the ball, De Vanna was a constant source of entertaining action. An accidental knock to the nose from Park Eun Sun slowed her only momentarily before she took to the field again, bandaged like a warrior, and still somehow managed to breathe through every foray.

For all the positive aspects of the Matildas game, there are certainly things they need to work on and improve. There’s little doubt that Japan will inflict more damage than the Koreans if given the opportunity.

The Matildas defenders regularly cleared the ball often rushing away a quick kick out of the danger zone when there appeared to be time to take a more measured approach.

Greater awareness and a pass to an open player could give them more counter attack opportunities, instead the quick ball out far too often landed back with the opposition allowing them another chance to set up. Korea was unable to punish the Matildas but it may very well be the difference in the final against the clinical Japanese team.

Lydia Williams has plenty of experience and is an exceptional goalkeeper but there were dangerous moments of indecision from her as well. In one instance, a high bouncing ball perhaps should have been taken earlier, instead the ball bounced only for it to spin high, almost over her head into goal.  Williams recovered the situation by her reflexes and a great one handed reach to tap the ball over the net.

Up forward, the Matildas need to finish stronger. They are certainly creating the chances.

Every so often they looked like they weren’t entitled to take the shot. Certainly this wasn’t the case all the time and it would be unfair to suggest that.

In their defense, there were even examples of defenders such as Polkinghorne and Catley taking lengthy runs into the box to shoot, but the midfielders and even the forwards could take their opportunities quicker, creating even more shots on goal.

All in all, the Matildas are on track leading into the final match of their title defense. Australia now meet world champions Japan in a battle for the 2014 Asian Cup trophy on Sunday May 25th at 11:15pm (AEST).

A game worn Japan played 120mins to beat China in their semi final, they will be cautious about the Australians who look sharp. The depth of the Australian bench and resting the legs of key players during group stages proving to be a key factor.

With Katrina Gorry on fire and a slick group of super subs, one wonders can Japan stop the Aussies?

Perhaps they can’t.

Reporting from Shell Barratt, Cheryl Downes and Ann Odong