Matildas beat Japan at the Tournament of Nations
THE Matildas have kept their hopes of winning a second consecutive Tournament of Nations title alive after a 2-0 victory over Japan in Chicago at the Tournament of Nations.
An Alanna Kennedy free kick and Sam Kerr breakaway goal spurred the Aussies to victory in what was at times a disjointed performance.
Australia has seven points from its three matches, having started with a 3-1 win over Brazil before a heartbreaking 1-1 draw against the USA.
America, on four points after two games, is still a chance of winning the tournament if it wins its final clash against Brazil by enough goals to give it a better differential than the Matildas.
Australia's goal difference is plus four, while the US sits at plus two.
The Aussies needed a win to put them in the box seat for this year's bragging rights and they put a sloppy first 45 minutes behind them to kick into gear in the second stanza and run over the top of a Japanese side that struggled to contain Australia's attacking threats.
Japan, who defeated the Matildas in this year's Asian Cup final, only had itself to blame for conceding the opener just minutes after half-time. It gave away a free kick on the edge of the box before its wall committed a cardinal sin to gift Australia a 1-0 lead.
The wall split and Alanna Kennedy's strike went straight through it, giving goalkeeper Hirao no chance of saving the shot at her near post.
That goal signalled the start of a Matildas rampage. A Sam Kerr header hit the post, then Hayley Raso stormed into Japanese territory and looked like doing everything on her own before her shot went across the face of goal.
The Aussies maintained the rage as Kerr got her head to Ellie Carpenter's cross in the 64th minute and forced a brilliant diving save from Hirao.
The Matildas enjoyed all the running but Iwabuchi gave them a scare when she blazed away from the corner of the box.
Lydia Williams was helpless to stop the shot but fortunately it went just wide.
That seemed to wake the girls in green up and Emily Gielnik hit back with a thunderous shot of her own, but Hirao was up to the task, parrying the strike from close range over the bar.
It looked like a case of near-misses would see the game go down to the wire but the Aussies were breathing a little easier when go-to girl Kerr did what she does best - find the back of the net - to double her team's advantage with 10 minutes to play.
Japan carelessly gave away possession in Australia's half and Kyah Simon played a long ball straight down the guts.
Hirao was well out of her area, sweeping behind her backline, and she came charging out to attempt a clearance. But Kerr was too quick and got to the ball first, then showed great pace and strength to hold off the last defender and slot the ball into an open net to make it 2-0.