Why Matildas won’t take their foot off the gas against minnows Chinese Taipei

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The Matildas know they are through to the final round of Olympic qualifying, but still have no clarity around who they could face in the final hurdle to Paris 2024.

Sunday’s 8-0 defeat of the Philippines confirmed Tony Gustavsson’s side had secured top spot in Group A and passage to February’s third phase of qualifying – a two-legged home-and-away play-off.

There will be two of these play-offs contested by the first-placed finishers from each of the three groups, along with the highest-ranked runner-up across the three groups, to determine Asia’s two Olympic representatives.

But teams are still in the dark about what format the Asian Football Confederation will use to determine who plays who.

It means Wednesday night’s final game against Chinese Taipei shapes as an important opportunity to better their already-commanding goal difference and be prepared for whatever – or whoever – comes their way.

As it stands leading into Wednesday’s third game of the second phase, South Korea and Japan lead Groups B and C and North Korea (Group B) is the highest-ranked runner-up.

Steph Catley (left) will be around for Australia’s third game against Chinese Taipei, but Ellie Carpenter and Emily van Egmond (both right) have returned to their clubs.Credit: Getty

“It is a bit of a weird situation,” Matildas vice-captain Steph Catley said on Tuesday. “Because I suppose we could come up against someone like Japan, and then one of us would be out. But that’s sort of the nature of these types of situations, and leading into big tournaments you come up against some of the best teams and then sometimes you don’t make it.

“Look at Europe – there’s so many good teams that miss out on the Olympics, and that’s sort of just the situation we’re in. But the main thing we can do is just control what we can control.

“For us that’s winning, and doing it however we need to and scoring as many goals as we can. So we’ll focus on the task at hand, and just make sure we get ourselves in the best position possible.”

However it goes, the Matildas have earned themselves a home leg in late February, and Melburnian Catley has an obvious preference for where she would like it to be staged – if the MCG’s ground staff can navigate the Taylor Swift concerts and fast-approaching 2024 AFL season.

“I mean, that would be pretty incredible,” she said. “I think Liverpool has played there, right? And that was pretty cool, right? I’m never going to say no to that. So yeah, James [Johnson, Football Australia CEO], if you’re listening, the MCG.”

Gustavsson has already said he will field a “mixed line-up” against Chinese Taipei, combining the starkly different starting XIs he deployed against Iran and the Philippines.

What is clear is that they will not feature Ellie Carpenter and Emily van Egmond, who have left Australia, and Cortnee Vine, who sustained a hamstring injury 10 minutes into her shift off the bench on Sunday and returned to Sydney FC for treatment.

Carpenter and Van Egmond were among the first to arrive in Perth for this international window and Football Australia said it had agreed a deal to have them released from their clubs early on the proviso they also returned early.

Carpenter is flying back to Lyon to prepare for a Division 1 Feminine match against Paris FC, while van Egmond heads back to San Diego Wave in time for the National Women’s Soccer League play-offs.

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