Australia will have to play for the bronze medal at the FIBA women’s World Cup after suffering a heartbreaking 61-59 loss to China in the semi-finals on Friday night.

It was a lowscoring and scrappy affair as both teams shot poorly — the Opals were 31 per cent from the field and only 5/21 on three-point attempts.

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Despite losing leading point scorer Li Meng to illness just hours before the game, China had the upper hand early and took a 36-30 lead into halftime.

China’s centre Han Xu and Australia’s point guard Sami Whitcomb kept the points ticking over for their teams in the first half.

In a seesawing contest, the Opals fought back to take the lead late in the last quarter and had the chance to run out the game.

But Steph Talbot had her pocket picked with a minute remaining and China raced down the other end to score, before Whitcomb fouled unnecessarily to give China the lead.

Ezi Magbegor had a chance to tie the game at the death but her shot was off the mark, meaning the Opals fell agonisingly short of the gold medal match.

The tournament hosts will have to quickly put the disappointment behind them quickly as they take on Canada in the bronze medal match on Saturday at 1pm (AEST).

It was a heartbreaking result for the Opals, who were desperate to play for gold at their home World Cup.

ESPN’s Olgun Uluc tweeted: “Brutal finish for the Opals; Ezi got a good look there. China was so well-drilled all night.”

Basketball reporter Alex Philippou said: “This game is insane. Really gutsy win for China considering they’re without their best guard in Li Meng. Really gutsy.”

China produced a well-drilled performance against Australia and are now guaranteed its first medal at a World Cup or Olympic Games since 1994.

China will take on the USA in the gold medal match after the red-hot favourites thrashed Canada 83-43 in the other semi-final.

The Opals’ defence couldn’t be faulted but they left plenty of points out there and will rue several missed opportunities on the offensive end.

Whitcomb missed all three free throws after she was fouled beyond the arc midway through the game.

There were as many vocal Chinese fans as there were Australian supporters in the boisterous crowd of 12,000 at the Sydney Superdome.

Aussie comeback veteran Lauren Jackson was even booed while she shot a pair of free throws in the first quarter.

Jackson starred in Australia’s quarterfinal win over Belgium but was barely used by coach Sandy Brondello.

But Bec Allen pushed through the pain of sore ribs, contributing valuable minutes and blocking a shot.

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