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May 30, 2010

Matildas win Asian Cup on penalties

The Matildas provided the Socceroos with some inspiration ahead of the World Cup by claiming Australia's first Asian football title at the women's Asian Cup in China on Sunday night.

Tom Sermanni's team overcame several injury setbacks and monsoonal conditions in Chengdu to go a step better than their runner-up finish at the 2006 tournament with a dramatic penalties win over North Korea in the final.

With scores locked at 1-1 after 90 minutes and extra time, the Matildas were flawless in the shootout in monsoonal conditions, winning 5-4 after 18-year-old substitute Kyah Simon netted the winning penalty.

"We're Asian champions, Australia, it's amazing," goalkeeper Melissa Barbieri said after the win.

"I'm so proud of the team and how they stuck in there."

Sixteen-year-old winger Samantha Kerr, younger sister of AFL star Daniel Kerr, put Australia ahead with a well-taken goal in the first half.

But North Korea came out firing in the second half and were rewarded when midfielder Jo Yun Mi headed an equaliser to send the match into extra time.

The victory helped bury the memories of 2006 Asian Cup, when Australia surrendered a 2-0 lead to lose on penalties to China in the final in Adelaide.

Having already booked a spot at next year's World Cup by reaching the final, Australia put in a gutsy performance after having lost striker Sarah Walsh after she twisted her ankle at the team hotel.

The injury prompted Sermanni to hand Kerr a start and the lively winger didn't disappoint, cooly slotting home midway through the first half after being played into space by Clare Polkinghorne.

North Korea came out fighting after the break, with Barbieri denying Yun Hyon Hi with a brilliant diving save but she was powerless when Mi headed home from close range to level the scores.

Polkinghorne had the best chance to put the Matildas back ahead, firing over the bar with virtually an open goal at her disposal.

Yun Hyon Hi struck the left upright with a long-range effort just a minute into extra time and Australia scrambled well in defence but neither side could break the deadlock on a rapidly-deteriorating pitch.

Australia were also missing Lisa De Vanna and Tameka Butt, who were injured during the tournament.

Earlier on Sunday Japan, who fell to the Matildas in the semi-finals, clinched Asia's third World Cup spot by beating China 2-0 in the third-fourth place playoff.

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