After making two major errors during the match, goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold emerged as Australia’s unlikely hero, making three saves in the shootout, leaving Sam Kerr to convert the kick which took them to their third consecutive final.
Thailand, led by the magnificent Kanjana Sung-Ngeon, pushed the favourites to their limit in a performance worthy of one Asia’s top four teams, but fell just short of completing the upset of the tournament.
Matildas head coach Alen Stajcic made six charges to the side which had started against Japan four days earlier, with Sam Kerr, Emily van Egmond, Steph Cately and Lydia Williams among the regulars to be omitted.
Having breezed to a 5-0 win against the same opposition just 22 days prior, Australia were widely expected to have the measure of the Thais but the first half proved to be a much tighter contest than many expected.
Australia dominated possession and early chances, and – despite committed Thai defending - took the lead when Chaba Kaew defender Kanchanaporn Saenkhun unfortunately headed a dangerous Emily Gielnik cross into her own net in the 17th minute.
Thailand immediately equalised when Kanjana Sung-Ngeon got in behind Australia’s high defensive line before lobbing the ball in the direction of Australian goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold, who made a dreadful error to fumble the ball across the goal-line.
Australia responded with a number of forays forward, but while their dominance of possession and territory continued, so too did Thailand’s counter-attacking threat.
The Southeast Asians came close to scoring again in the 41st minute when Kanjana rounded Arnold and saw her shot blocked by Laura Alleway, with Ellie Carpenter denying Taneekarm Dangda in similar fashion from the rebound.
Stajcic brought on Catley into the fray at half time, and the defender almost allowed Kanjana to double tally when her error allowed the Thai forward a shot on goal, but Arnold saved Silawan Intamee blazed the follow-up high over the crossbar.
Thailand sensationally took a 2-1 lead in the 64th minute when Thongsombut Rattikan slammed a brilliant 15-metre shot into the top corner after errors from both Arnold and Kennedy.
Australia were in a state of panic, and almost coughed up another goal when Kanjana got in behind the defence yet again to force a save from Arnold in the 68th minute, and Stajcic introduced star striker Kerr at the earliest opportunity thereafter.
The favourites ramped up the pressure; Logarzo’s scooped just above the crossbar in the 73rd minute, and fired a well-struck drive just wide six minutes later, before Kerr missed a difficult chance, then hit the crossbar with a looping header in the 84th minute.
Thailand’s task become more difficult when Wilaiporn Boothduang was sent off just three minutes from time for a second bookable offence, and Alanna Kennedy gave the Matildas a lifeline in the first minute of injury time, when she rose to head home Elise Kellond-Knight’s pin-point corner and make it 2-2.
For the second time in as many matches, the Matildas had scored in the dying moments of a match to stay in the tournament and, with a numerical advantage, entered extra-time a strong position.
Another foiled Kanjana break away had Australian hearts in mouths in the 107th minute, before a goalmouth scramble saved the Thais minutes later.
Kerr had a gilt-edged chance to win the game in the 118th minute but she poked her side-foot volley narrowly over the crossbar from just eight metres out, and the teams headed to the penalty spot to decide the match.
In a gripping shootout, Emily van Egmond’s miss gave the Thais the early advantage, before Arnold went from villain to hero with three consecutive saves, allowing Kerr to slot the decisive kick and take Australia to Friday’s final.