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China kept hopes of automatic progression to the knockout stages alive after beating South Africa. Image Credit: Reuters

Paris: China coach Jia Xiuquan praised his team’s mentality after they beat South Africa 1-0 at the women’s World Cup on Thursday, saying he was “deeply moved” by the fight and desire his players had shown to seal their first win of the tournament.

Striker Li Ying scored the only goal of the game a few minutes before halftime to keep China’s hopes of automatic progression to the knockout stages alive ahead of their final Group B match against Spain on Monday.

“The victory belongs to all the players, they deserve it,” Jia told reporters. “Their desire to win has impressed me the most over the year and I’ve been deeply moved by this. This has given me courage to lead them.

“The battle has just begun and there will be tough games ahead.” China are third in the group behind Spain on goal difference, while leaders Germany have already reached the last-16.

The top two teams from each group automatically qualify for the knockout rounds along with the tournament’s four best third-placed teams.

China will automatically advance if they beat Spain and Jia said his team were going into the match as underdogs but would be under less pressure to deliver than their higher-ranked opponents.

“Spain are stronger than us, so we can play without the pressure of expectation which could give us a better performance,” he added. “Hopefully our players can unleash their potential and execute the match plan well.”

Earlier, a Monica own-goal completed a remarkable turnaround by Australia at the women’s World Cup on Thursday, as the Matildas came from two goals down to stun Brazil 3-2.

There was drama in Montpellier with Australia, after conceding at the death to lose 2-1 to Italy in their Group C opener, staring at a humiliating early exit as they trailed 2-0 to Brazil.

It was returning superstar Marta, absent from Brazil’s 3-0 win against Jamaica due to injury, who gave her team the lead from a first-half penalty, her 16th World Cup goal.

The 33-year-old is now level with Germany’s Miroslav Klose as the joint leading goalscorers in the history of the World Cup, men’s and women’s combined.

Fresh from her hat-trick against the Jamaicans, Cristiane then headed home to double Brazil’s lead, but the Australians produced a stunning fightback.

Caitlin Foord netted from close range just before the break, and then Chloe Logarzo’s ball into the box somehow nestled in the back of the net to level the scores.

The stage was set for the comeback to be completed when Monica headed a hopeful punt forward into her own net in the 66th minute, as Australia became just the second team to win a women’s World Cup match from two goals down.

“It was nice to come out swinging when our backs are against the wall. We like a good fight,” said Logarzo, who suffered a broken leg in late February.