The Matildas have progressed through to the Round of 16 after defeating Canada 4-0 in their last group stage game of the FIFA Women’s World Cup.
It was a must-win game for the Matildas, with pressure mounting since their poor performance against Nigeria. Uncertainty over the availability of captain Sam Kerr who has been sidelined with a calf injury only added to the pressure.
But all anxious thoughts were put on hold for the do-or-die game, and Australia sent home the reigning Olympic champions in front of 27,706 fans at Melbourne Rectangular Stadium.
It was eight minutes into the match when Caitlin Foord’s pass cut through the Canadian defence into the path of Steph Catley, who played a square ball to Hayley Raso at the top of the box. Raso shot, the ball hit the bottom corner of the net, and Australia celebrated for a brief moment before the referee called the goal offside.
After what felt like an eternity, the VAR reviewed the call and the goal stood – a sea of yellow and green erupted in the crowd as the Australian players ran over to Raso to celebrate the first goal of the match.
Within 5 minutes the Matildas were on the attack again, Catley assisting once more with the cutback to Raso, but her shot was saved by Canadian keeper Kailen Sheridan.
The high press from Australia forced Canada to make mistakes, with Katrina Gorry in the midfield blocking passing lanes, giving the Matildas the upper hand. Canada’s lack of urgency worked in the Matildas favour, with a majority of Canada’s possession being sideways and backward passes between their defence line.
Mary Fowler thought she’d doubled the score line in the 34th minute, only for VAR to step in again, this time the call going against the Matildas. In a decision that must’ve been made to the millimetre, the heel of Ellie Carpenter was deemed to be offside, and Fowler’s goal disallowed.
But it wasn’t long before Raso added her name to the score sheet for the second time. A Kyra Cooney-Cross corner bounced off a Canadian defender and into the path of Raso, who tapped the ball into the back of the net from close range, making the score 2-0 to Australia.
Canada’s quadruple substitution at half-time saw Jayde Riviere, Jordyn Huitema, Christine Sinclair and Julia Grosso replaced by Allysha Chapman, Deanne Rose, Cloe Lacasse and Sophie Schmidt, with head coach Bev Priestman eager to shake things up for the second 45 minutes of the match.
Australia started the second half in a similar fashion to the first, with Sheridan forced to make a fingertip save in the 53rd minute from a powerful Cooney-Cross shot from outside the box.
With 30 minutes or regular time left to play, Caitlin Foord’s cut-back found the feet of Mary Fowler. Her shot rebounded off the post and trickled over the goal line, putting her side up by three goals and giving Australia a comfortable lead.
The best chance of the half for Canada came in the 67th minute. A breakaway saw Evelyne Viens play Deanne Rose on the right, whose shot was blocked by Mackenzie Arnold’s outstretched boot.
Double goal scorer Hayley Raso was cheered off the field in the 75th minute and replaced by Cortnee Vine, who brought some fresh energy into the match.
At the 80th-minute mark, Fowler had a chance to score again, but her shot ricocheted off the post. At the other end of the field, Clare Hunt was steadfast at the back and Mackenzie Arnold made a fingertip save to put the ball out for a corner after a rocket of a strike from Viens.
A final VAR decision saw Australia win a penalty in the 90th minute after Jessie Flemming stomped on the foot of Katrina Gorry.
Steph Catley stepped up and curled the penalty into the top left corner, leaving the final score 4-0 to the Matildas - and Catley scoring her second penalty of the tournament so far.
In a high-pressure match, with their backs up against the wall, the Matildas were able to perform when they needed to most.
Australia will now go on to play in the Round of 16 knock-out match against either England, Denmark or China next Monday, August 7th at 8:30pm.