Australia enjoyed 70 per cent of possession in Thursday night's clash at Bankwest Stadium, making 362 more passes.

But Ante Milicic's side struggled to break down well-drilled China, who sat back, absorbed pressure and took a more direct route when moving forward.

China's resoluteness paid dividends as the Steel Roses broke the deadlock through Tang Jiali's 86th-minute strike.

But Emily van Egmond's stunning reply in added time cancelled out the would-be winner, ensuring Australia face Vietnam instead of highly-rated South Korea in the final knockout stage for Tokyo 2020.

Apart from a few flashes of brilliance, Kerr wasn't afforded many opportunities to strut her stuff while returning to Milicic's starting line-up after bench cameos against Taiwan and Thailand.

The Chelsea star said China's tactics to sit back and defend in numbers made life difficult, but she took it as a sign of respect.

"That's kind of been happening against us a lot lately and we haven't solved it quite yet," Kerr said.

"To be fair, it's probably a compliment to us. Teams are respecting what we can do and getting 11 players behind the ball."

Despite spending a week quarantined in a Brisbane hotel room before the tournament, under-strength China - who left several key players at home - opted for the same starting 11 for the third straight match.

But to Matildas midfielder Elise Kellond-Knight's surprise, they didn't tire in the second half in a show of their world-class physical endurance.

"The way that they defended and how fresh they were, especially considering they had the same team the whole tournament. Who knows what they were doing in the hotel? I'd like to know that," she said.

"We're certainly not going to approach tournaments like that where we're going to rely on a starting 11 each game. That's not going to be our philosophy."

Knowing more of same may be in store for Australia in their two-leg playoff with Vietnam, or in the group stage in Tokyo should they qualify, skipper Kerr stressed they were working on addressing the issue.

"It's the hardest thing to do in football is break down a block of 11," she said.

"We're building on it every day, it's something we practice a lot.

"But, look, it doesn't happen overnight. We definitely think we'll face it at the Olympics. But we showed a lot of fight and that's the important thing."