Canada have claimed their second win of the series, defeating the Matildas 2-1 in the final international friendly in front of 26,997 fans at the resplendent Allianz Stadium.
A perfect start for the home side, going ahead through Mary Fowler in just the third minute, gave way to sloppy play and defensive frailty as Adriana Leon made Australia pay with her second and third strikes of the two-game friendly series.
The result only amplifies the pressure on besieged Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson, who now has less than a year to prepare this squad for their most important tournament ever, the home 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Australia couldn’t have dreamt of a better beginning to the contest, going one to the good within the opening three minutes. Sam Kerr started the move, laying off to Cortnee Vine, then getting it back, gracefully swivelling and squaring expertly to Mary Fowler, whose emphatic finish rocketed past Kailen Sheridan’s outstretched left arm.
A more confident looking Matildas outfit continued to attack down their right side, with Vine combining well with Kerr, who was looking as sharp as ever in link-up play.
Gustavsson made four changes to the XI that faced the Canadians in Brisbane – one forced – with Caitlin Foord, Aivi Luik, Tameka Yallop and Vine coming into the starting line-up.
Australia began to manage possession and exert control over the friendly, as the visitors struggled to create any real chances of note.
The pace of Vine, as well as Foord on the opposite side, was causing issues for Canada’s defence and the Matildas midfield looked to spring the speedsters early and often.
A pronounced lack of intensity reflected the game’s friendly status with nothing really hinging on the final score, except perhaps some brownie points for Gustavsson if it went the Matildas’ way. A second loss of the series, however, was surely not in the script for the under-pressure manager.
A speculative Kerr hit from outside the box, never troubling Sheridan, was the home side’s best opportunity for some time.
The Matildas had a half-hearted penalty shout in the 36th minute swiftly waved away by referee Seijin Park after Foord was brought down in the penalty area. There was no second look as VAR was not available for the two-match series – but replays showed the slightest contact to Foord’s heel.
It seemed everything good for Australia was coming through the right side and it was Vine again with a great chance. The winger made a fantastic diagonal run through the Canada defence and went one-on-one with Sheridan but after seemingly having too much time to think, she was only able to tap a feeble shot towards the Canada goal.
“We’ve seen patches before – five minutes here, seven minutes there – but this was a 45-minute complete performance where we’re actually dominating Canada, the Olympic champions,” Gustavsson said post-game.
“Then at half-time, we said, ‘We know exactly what’s gonna happen: Canada has nothing to lose, they’re gonna come out and press the s–t out of us. We need to be ready for it, we need to play faster’.”
Gustavsson made the surprising call to replace the effervescent Vine with Emily Gielnik at the break. The Swede was seen congratulating Vine on her first-half performance, and he later clarified that the substitution was premeditated.
Fans were still returning to their seats when the visitors made the best possible start to the second half. The goal-scorer from Sunday’s first match of the series, Adriana Leon, came back to haunt Australia again with a calm finish after a simple yet effective give-and-go down the left with Christine Sinclair.
The Matildas boss was less than impressed with the sloppy start to the half, and just how easily Canada opened his side’s defence up.
“I don’t think we were really ready; we didn’t match their speed of press with our speed of play. We didn’t play fast enough so we started to get dispossessed more often,” he said.
“Then that 1-1 goal (happened).”
Katrina Gorry was booked in the 58th minute for a dangerous sliding challenge. Leon sent the resulting free-kick, from about 30 yards out from goal, straight into Lydia Williams’s chest.
Just minutes later, it got even worse for the home side and Gustavsson.
Jade Rose made her way through the Matildas midfield and released Leon – who else? – with a through-ball that cut out five defenders, and the forward took her tally for the series to three with a strong finish past Williams.
There was a hint of offside, but again with no VAR available, the goal stood.
“I don’t want to sit here and complain but I do want to look at some of those situations and see if there were some referee calls that could have been different,” Gustavsson said.
“Sometimes that happens in a game but I want to look into that.”
The sloppy play from the home side continued as countless passes went to red shirts instead of gold. Now forced to come from behind, it was hard to see where the impetuous was going to come from.
Gustavsson went to his bench again, bringing on Clare Wheeler, Alex Chidiac and Larissa Crummer for the final minutes.
Chidiac almost got her name into tomorrow’s paper with a late chance, but Canada substitute Quinn did well to get her body in the way, deflecting Chidiac’s shot out for a corner.
It finished 2-1 to the away side, giving them a perfect two wins from two in this international friendly series.
“We just lost our momentum,” captain Sam Kerr said.
“It wasn’t good enough (in) the second half… we have to learn from it.
“A lot of injuries, obviously we make a lot of subs and the level drops off but the most important thing is everyone stays fit and healthy.
“We haven’t had that this camp and it’s been really difficult.”
The Matildas have plenty of introspection to do after two disappointing defeats, before they take on Sweden on November 12 at AAMI Park.