The Matildas are through to the Women’s World Cup round of 16 after a steely 4-0 triumph over Canada at AAMI Park.
A Hayley Raso double sealed Australia’s passage to the knockout rounds, with Mary Fowler denied by VAR on the thinnest of margins after Ellie Carpenter was ruled offside. Fowler would eventually get her goal in the second half to make the result safe before Steph Catley added a fourth from the penalty spot.
Sam Kerr was not used in any capacity by Tony Gustavsson, after the Matildas captain had declared herself available for the do-or-die clash.
A 0-0 stalemate between Nigeria and Ireland in Brisbane allowed Australia to finish atop Group B. Gustavsson’s side will face the second-placed team in Group D – Denmark, England, or China – at Stadium Australia on Monday.
“Proud and privileged to be part of an event like this,” said Gustavsson, who had been under huge pressure to progress to the knockout stages of a home World Cup.
“Just look at the fans. Look at the way they carried the team tonight. So, every single fan out there, thank you. And the players. There’s something special about this group. I hope coaches out there get to experience what I have experienced the last three days because it’s unique.
“In the press conference yesterday, someone asked ‘is this the legacy-defining moment for this team?’ – yes it was, but we didn’t shy away from it and these players, the way they performed tonight, and all the talk about Sam, and all the noise outside and the way they just went out and played the game, stayed true to who they are, the pressing game, the tackling game. We beat Canada, the Olympic champions, 4-0 in a do-or-die game.
“We spoke about (how) the Nigeria performance was much better than people said it was but we didn’t convert, but tonight we did. Four goals. Then we cleaned up some defensive mistakes, as well. We need to be humble now, embrace this tonight for sure but then the boring coach says ‘recovery, recovery, recovery’ then the knockout stages start. But let’s keep backing this team, keep believing in it, get behind them.”
Socceroos legend Mark Schwarzer, speaking on the Optus Sport coverage, said he was completely engrossed in the vital win.
“We talk about the stadium, and it is the smallest venue the Matildas have played in so far, however, I think it was up there with the best in terms of the atmosphere, the tightness, and Canada never got going – that was because the Matildas were so good,” said Schwarzer.
“It’s finding the right balance, Raso on the right, Foord on the left. I don’t think it’s a coincidence we saw the best out of Raso on the right either because of that combination – Fowler up top, Emily van Egmond behind and obviously Foord on the left.
“We also have to mention Mackenzie Arnold. She pulled off two fantastic saves. The one with her feet was at a moment where things could have gained a bit of momentum for Canada, but she delivered today. There were question marks on her performance against Nigeria – especially the third goal. Tonight, she was exceptional.”
“Absolutely amazing,” was the way Hayley Raso described the occasion and her double-scoring feat.
“We knew we had to give it everything tonight and we left it all out there, and to get the goals topped it all off for me. Hugely proud. The girls put in a shift tonight, everybody fought for each other, you could see that out there. Like I said, nobody left anything there so we’re super happy.
“We knew we had to win, our backs were against the wall and we showed that never say die attitude and we’re absolutely delighted. I can’t really describe the crowd. They lifted us tonight. To score in front of my family, in front of this amazing crowd is so, so special.”
Canada earned an unwanted record in Melbourne, becoming the first Olympic champions to be knocked out of the following Women’s World Cup in the group stage, while Australia avoided becoming the second hosts in World Cup history, after co-hosts New Zealand, to be eliminated at the first hurdle.
It was a nervy opening in Melbourne with both sides coughing up possession cheaply.
Australia made a dream start with Hayley Raso, given way too much room in the penalty area, finishing off Steph Catley’s deflected cross with a tidy finish.
The lineswoman’s flag had initially been raised on Catley’s well-timed curved run but a VAR check – almost immediately – overturned that decision and the goal stood.
Catley and Raso then combined again soon after, this time the Real Madrid signing denied by Kailen Sheridan with a good save down to her left.
The early strike settled Australian nerves but Canada were straight up the other end, with Adriana Leon looking dangerous.
Caitlin Foord, back in her natural position on the wing, was causing problems for the Canadian backline with her runs.
Australia thought they had doubled their lead after Carpenter’s marauding run led to a scramble in the box, with fit again Fowler finally finishing off the move with a point-blank finish. VAR would, however, rear its head and deny the Matildas on the slimmest of margins as Carpenter’s foot was in an illegal position.
Canada’s respite would only last minutes though, with some very questionable defending from a Kyra Cooney-Cross set-piece allowing Raso to double her tally from close range.
Beverly Priestman’s side were looking awful defensively, panic at set-pieces and failing to complete regulation clearances letting them down for both Matildas goals. It could easily have been 3-0 inside the first half if not for the extremely tight – but ultimately correct – VAR call disallowing Fowler’s strike.
As was quickly becoming tradition at the 2023 Women’s World Cup, seven minutes of injury-time was added on to the end of the opening stanza.
Gustavsson was shown the yellow card for encroaching out of his technical area and onto the field of play but the Matildas managed to hold on their advantage at the break.
It was still scoreless at Suncorp Stadium between Ireland and Nigeria, meaning Australia would top the group if everything stayed equal in both matches.
The desperate Priestman rung the changes at half-time, with Canadian legend Christine Sinclair, potentially in her final World Cup appearance, one of four players making way for the second half.
Gustavsson, meanwhile, appeared satisfied with his side’s first-half display and made no alterations to the Matildas line-up.
Workhorse Katrina Gorry went down in some discomfort after a duel but was okay to continue.
It could have been three for Australia after a wicked Catley cross went begging, but not long after Fowler had the ball in the net and this time she would not be denied.
Foord drove into the area and held her cross just long enough, finding Fowler who received a good bounce off the post to make it 3-0.
Leon, who was Canada’s most likely route to goal, received a head knock and was assessed for concussion, eventually being substituted with Priestman now out of changes.
With under 20 minutes left on the clock it was last chance saloon time for the Canadians, throwing bodies forward at every opportunity.
For those on Kerr watch, there was still no sign of the Chelsea star.
Sophie Schmidt had a chance to peg one back after a poor defensive header but saw her shot blocked by Clare Hunt.
Fowler would be denied again, beating Sheridan but this time her strike cannoned back off the post.
Stand-in skipper Catley added a fourth from the penalty spot after Gorry was illegally brought down in the penalty area, sealing a memorable Matildas victory in front of a raucous AAMI Park gallery.