Australia has lost the final of the AFC Women's Asian Cup to China, after a dramatic penalty shootout at Hindmarsh Stadium in Adelaide. Chinese substitute keeper Yanru Zhang came on for the shootout and saved two Australian penalties, to be the hero for China in what was an absorbing contest from the opening whistle.
Zhang saved penalties from Collete McCallum and Jo Peters, as China won the shootout 4-2 after the match finished 2-2 at the end of full time and then extra time.
It's a match the Australian's will look back at what might have been, after they led 2-0 at the half time break. However China dominated the second half and scored twice in quick succession to level it up and force the game into extra time.
Australia stopped the Chinese charge during extra time, but couldn't find the goal to end the contest and stop it from going to penalties.
The effect of Zhang in the penalty shootout was evident after the first kick, as she saved Australia's first kick by McCallum and then third kick by Peters, while her teammates made no mistake converting all four penalty kicks.
The win was China's eighth AFC Women's Asian Cup title.
However midway through the first half it didn't look like it was going to be China's day, after they found themselves down not just by one goal but by two goals .
China had dominated the early the early proceedings, including having a 2nd minute penalty appeal turned away by Japanese referee Mayumi Oiwa.
Australian goalkeeper Melissa Barbieri was in the action soon after, denying Chinese striker Han.
The game turned however in the 29th minute, as Australian striker Caitlin Munoz scored the goal of the tournament, unleashing a 30-metre rocket that is parried onto the underside of the crossbar and down into the goal.
Two minutes later Shipard almost repeated the dose but her shot was turned away by the diving Wenxia Han.
But from the ensuing corner, Australia doubled its lead with Peters heading home from close range.
Australia was now full of running and Peters was inches away from making it 3-0 her shot skimming past the outside of the post.
The first half ended sourly though for Australia, with defender Di Alagich forced off the field after receiving a knock, a moment that may have proved defining in the end.
Alagich's experience was going to be needed in the second half with the expected China onslaught and so it proved as they came out with attacking intent.
Barbieri was working overtime in goals as China threatened constantly and their pressure paid off in the 68th minute, as Han and Ma combined with the former low shot from 15 metres beating the outstretched dive of Barbieri.
Buoyed by the goal, China continued to attack and Ma scored a brilliant goal when she evaded substitute defender Rhian Davies near the goal line before finishing with a precision angled shot.
It was all hands on deck now for the Matildas as China finished the match strongly with wave after wave of attack, but they managed to hang on till full time.
The break seemed to suit Australia better, as it stopped the Chinese momentum and allowed Matildas coach Tom Sermanni to chat with his players, as the 5,000+ crowd waited in anticipation for the extra time action.
Australia picked up the pace in the extra period and on several occasions the Chinese, despite having a number of players stretchered off, refused to make their third substitution, with the reasons soon to be revealed with good effect.
No real chances was created by either side in extra time with virtually the final act being Zhang's introduction into the match for the penalty shootout.
Australian coach Tom Sermanni while disappointed by the result, was not disheartened by the performance shown by the team.
"I'm philosophical when it comes to penalty shootouts," he said back at the team hotel after the game. “They are a lottery and not really decided by skill, more by luck".
"To be honest, I would have been more disappointed if we had lost in normal time.
"These games are always close and we were playing against a quality side that is up there among the best teams in the world.
"To go right through to the final, then right to full time, and then the penalty shootout, was an outstanding effort from the girls and they can look back on this with pride."
Sermanni believes the team has come a long way in this tournament and will serve them well as they prepare for next year's Women's World Cup in China.
"It's been fabulous," he said with a great deal of pride in his players. "It was how we played, they have stepped up with their performances and in the manner of their approach to games.
"We actually looked like we belonged in that company and despite the result it was a sensational game between two very evenly matched teams.
"It was a great learning experience, which will no doubt help these girls immensely down the track."