Melb City defender unlikely hero for Young Matildas in Asian Cup opener overshadowed by pitch

Naomi Chinnama has never scored in the Liberty A-League but the Melbourne City youngster struck at the death to give the Young Matildas a come-from-behind 2-1 win over South Korea in their AFC Under-20 Women’s Asian Cup opener.

Chinnama found the back of the net in the 90th minute as the Young Matildas overcame sub-zero temperatures and a farcical pitch in Uzbekistan on Sunday.

The Group A opener was overshadowed by the state of the pitch, which was covered in snow except for the sides of the field, while the lines of the centre circle were dug out.

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Both sets of players struggled in the conditions as the ball continued to get stuck in the snow. One South Korean player was seen digging a hole out of the snow to take a free-kick.

Australia’s U20 team – a 23-player squad made up of 22 Liberty A-League players across 10 teams – trailed at half-time having conceded in the 25th minute.

But the Young Matildas, who finished fourth at the 2019 event, hit back in the second half.

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Peta Trimis – the 17-year-old from Central Coast Mariners, equalised in the 73rd minute with a well-taken goal in difficult conditions.

After Newcastle Jets’ Lara Gooch threatened to complete the comeback in the 82nd minute, Chinnama popped up at the death with a sublime strike to ensure Leah Blayney’s Young Matildas kicked off the tournament in winning fashion.

Next up for Australia are hosts Uzbekistan (March 6) and Chinese Taipei (March 9).

If the Young Matildas earn a top-two finish in Group A, it will not only secure a spot in the knockout phases of the Asian Cup but qualification for the 2024 FIFA U20 Women’s World Cup between August 31 and September 22.