Emily fires Matildas to win Rio qualifiers

STAR striker Kyah Simon believes a first Australian Olympic Games medal in football for either gender is now a realistic target after the Matildas won the Asian qualifying tournament.

GOAL: Emily van Egmond celebrates her long-range strike against China. Picture: Getty Images

Australia held on to top spot after former Newcastle Jets captain Emily van Egmond equalised with a stunning 25-metre drive with five minutes remaining against China in Osaka on Wednesday.

The 1-1 draw ensured Australia completed the tournament undefeated with four wins from five matches, shoring up a ticket to Rio along with China.

Van Egmond, who played all but 14 minutes of the Matildas’six games in 10 days, put her laces through a first-time shot in the 85th minute.

The ball swerved into the top right corner past goalkeeper Zhao Lina to give the FFC Frankfurt midfielder her third goal of the tournament.

With confidence at an all-time high, the Matildas are now focused on a podium finish in Rio.

The Matildas celebrate Emily van Egmond’s equaliser against China. Picture: Getty Images

“After the past 10 days, we have a belief that we are genuine medal contenders,” Simon said.

“And we have further scope to grow and improve.We are definitely going there to compete for a medal, not to make up the numbers.”

The Matildas’ best showing at an Olympic Games was to reach the lasteight at Athens 2004. Their male counterparts peaked with a fourth-placed finish at Barcelona in 1992.

Australia made it to the quarter-finals at last year’s World Cup in a spirited performance that captured widespread media attention.

But Simon, whose four goals topped the tournament, saidthe team hadimproved markedly in recent months.

“We have improved in leaps and bounds since the World Cup,” she said.

“A lot of that goes down to being on the same page defensivelyand having an aggressive mindset in defence.

“We have a lot of quality attackers in our team, so when you have the defensive stuff worked out, you are in good shape.

“We put a lot of focus on our physical condition ahead of the tournament, and that meant we could play at a high intensity throughout all five matches.

“We have shown that we can beat some of the best teams in the world, and it is just so exciting for the Olympics.”

The Matildas received a message of support from Sydney 2000 gold medallist Cathy Freeman after booking passage to Rio on Monday.

Despite that inspiration, Australia were relatively flat against China but still found a way to earn a share of the spoils thanks to a trademark comeback.

“It was probably our worst performance of the tournament, so it was disappointing from that standpoint,” Simon said.

“But to cap it off by finishing top is a huge achievement and we are very proud of what we achieved.”

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