With the Matildas lingering dangerously close to an embarrassing early exit on home soil, Tony Gustavsson’s Australian side knew that they’d need a win to guarantee their participation in the round-of-sixteen. Depending on the result in the concurrent Ireland v Nigeria match, a draw could be enough – but the co-hosts would surely want to progress on their own terms, rather than relying on results elsewhere.
CAN: Sheridan; Lawrence, Gilles, Buchanan, Riviere; Grosso, Quinn; Huitema, Fleming, Leon; Sinclair
AUS: Arnold; Catley, Kennedy, Hunt, Carpenter; Fowler, Cooney-Cross, Gorry, Raso; Foord, van Egmond
With the knowledge that anything less than a win could bring an abrupt end to their campaign, Australia started strongly at the Melbourne Rectangular Stadium. They found their much-needed opener with merely nine minutes on the clock, as Steph Catley drove down the left flank before threading a ball into the box. Her pass sailed through the Canadian defence, ultimately finding Hayley Raso – and Real Madrid’s statement signing made no mistake with the finish. The offside flag was promptly raised, though Raso’s blushes were spared as a VAR review found that there was no offence committed.
The Matildas moved to the top of Group B with that strike, and Tony Gustavsson’s side came close to adding their second goal just moments later. Steph Catley and Hayley Raso linked up once again, with the winger on the receiving end of the left-back’s cross – but her curling effort across the face of goal was palmed away by Kailen Sheridan.
Canada never truly looked to test the Australian resolve, as the Matildas sought to further extend their advantage with half-time drawing ever nearer. Mary Fowler though she’d handed her side a two-goal lead as she pummelled an effort into the roof of the net following a scramble inside the penalty area, but a VAR check found that Ellie Carpenter was fractionally offside – and as such, the goal wouldn’t stand.
Yet two minutes later, Tony Gustavsson’s side found their second goal – and this time it would stand! Hayley Raso completed her brace as Kailen Sheridan failed to effectively deal with Kyna Cooney-Cross’ in-swinging corner delivery from the left flank, with the ex-Manchester City star poking home from close range after shambolic defending from the Canadians.
With progression seemingly quite certain as Australia emerged for the second half, Kyra Cooney-Cross attempted a rather speculative effort from distance – her sweetly-hit strike put Kailen Sheridan to work, as the goalkeeper was required to tip it over the crossbar.
Having had her earlier goal disallowed, Mary Fowler finally worked her way onto the scoresheet just before the hour mark. Caitlin Foord looked to find the goalscorer with a neat cut-back pass from the byline, with Fowler simply having to flick the ball goalwards – trickling over the line after a deflection off the post.
A great opportunity to net a consolation goal fell to Canada with just fifteen minutes still to play, as a long ball over the top of the Australian defence fell sweetly for Sophie Schmidt. The midfielder to latch on to it with a powerful strike destined for the back of the net, but a superb block from Clare Hunt sent the ball crashing over the woodwork to avert the pressure on Mackenzie Arnold.
But Australia were provided with an opportunity to add their fourth strike in stoppage time, as Jessie Fleming was found to have stamped on the foot of Katrina Gorry. A brief VAR check found that it was deserving of a penalty, and Steph Catley made no mistake from spot – beating Kailen Sheridan to ensure the Matildas waltz into the knockout stages.
Ultimately then, it’s Australia that claim a comfortable win on home soil against Canada. Group B was left wide open ahead of this final round of matches, and Canada would have held every hope of qualifying – but home advantage proved to pay dividends for the Matildas.
Australia will take comfort from a classy, clinical performance against Canada, as the Matildas seal their participation in the knockout rounds. They’ll be joined by Nigeria, with the Super Falcons having been held to a goalless draw against the Republic of Ireland. Those fixtures will be played on August 7.