The CommBank ParaMatildas are champions of Asia and Oceania, defeating Japan in the final of the IFCPF Asia Oceania Championships 2-0.
It was a hard-fought win for Australia. A first-half goal to Nicole Christodoulou settled the nerves before tournament golden boot winner Georgia Beikoff sealed it with a second-half strike.
Conditions in Melbourne were hot and sunny – perfect conditions for the crowd who piled in to create a fantastic atmosphere at the Home of the Matildas. The CommBank Pararoos and Japan’s men’s team were both in attendance, leading loud chants in support of their female counterparts.
Despite the fact that the CommBank ParaMatildas had been victorious in all six previous meetings with Japan, it was the team in blue who initially created the better chances, and put the pressure on the home side before the first-half drinks break.
Ayumi Takemura up front was particularly dangerous. Katelyn Smith was forced into two sharp saves to deny the Japanese striker in the 8th and 9th minutes, first saving with her legs and then coming out to stifle a one-on-one opportunity.
However, the drinks break halfway through the first half was an opportunity for Australia to re-set. Suddenly, the chances were flowing. A Katelyn Smith free kick flew just over the crossbar, Annmarie de Uriarte was denied by a fantastic block from Saki Kuroki, and Nicole Christodoulou couldn’t quite steer a Smith long ball in the back of the net.
It would be Christodoulou who opened the scoring. The striker was in the right place to capitalise after a shot rebounded into her path, and she made no mistake, slotting it past the steadfast Japanese defence. The ultimate team player, she made a beeline for the bench to celebrate opening the scoring, and putting Australia 1-0 up at half-time.
The break came at an opportune time for the CommBank ParaMatildas. It gave coach Kelly Stirton an opportunity to reassess in light of the events of the first half, and reiterate her instructions.
It worked out well for her side. Georgia Beikoff has made a habit of scoring within moments of the restart, and kept that tradition going after the break. She intercepted the ball in her own third barely one minute into the second half. A tidy one-two with Annmarie De Uriarte later, the ball was in the back of the net for Australia’s second, and Beikoff had her fifth goal of the tournament.
Japan were far from out of the game. They had an opportunity from a free kick just outside the box, and Mai Ohta shot just wide after intercepting a pass deep in Australia’s half. A long ball moments before the second-half drinks break bounced just over Katelyn Smith’s crossbar.
Carly Salmon and Eloise Northam were introduced after the second-half drinks break, coming on for goalscorer Nicole Christodoulou and Annmarie De Uriarte.
The substitutes helped see the game out for the CommBank ParaMatildas. They created opportunities of their own - Salmon coming close to making it three in the dying stages of the game - but overall provided a steadying influence for the team in the final ten minutes.
Defender Tahlia Blanshard was named player of the match in acknowledgement of the mountain of work that she put in to keep Japan scoreless. It certainly was not an easy task, particularly as the free kicks mounted in Japan's favour, but Australia's defence stood tall.
It means that in their second-ever final, and their second year of existence, the CommBank ParaMatildas are champions of Asia and Oceania. It is an achievement to be monumentally proud of for all players involved in women's CP football, coach Kelly Stirton, and the CommBank ParaMatildas staff.
Australia: 2 (Nicole Christodoulou 21', Georgia Beikoff 27')
Australia: 2. Nicole Christodoulou (1. Carly Salmon 41’), 3. Tahlia Blanshard (4. Karina Grigorian 50+1’), 6. Katelyn Smith (c), 8. Annmarie De Uriarte (7. Eloise Northam 41’), 10. Georgia Beikoff
Substitutes not used: 5. Tamsin Colley, 9. Rae Anderson
Japan: 2. Mai Ohta (c), 3. Miyabi Hamada, 4. Saki Kuroki, 5. Mayuko Kaiga, 6. Ayumi Takemura
Substitutes not used: 1. Masami Ryochi, 7. Rie Ishihara