Well, that couldn’t have gone much better. The Matildas flirted with the cliff edge of elimination before routing Canada and topping Group B in a major success for Tony Gustavsson’s side.
Monday’s 4-0 win over the Olympic champions was arguably the best Matildas’ performance in a few years, produced at a crucial moment without star forward Sam Kerr.
It was everything we hoped they’d do pre-tournament, delivering fresh impetus and momentum to the side’s campaign after a stuttering initial start, full of nerves and lacking cohesion and method in play.
The performance alone was clinical, with Hayley Raso’s composure in a big moment for the opening goal evident, but there was much more to it, with a disciplined collective effort to keep the Canadians at bay, absorbing their periods of dominance in possession.
Nigeria’s goalless draw with the Republic of Ireland, allowing Australia to top the group, was the proverbial icing on the cake, setting up a likely last-16 clash with either Denmark or China, barring anything unforeseen from England’s Lionesses next Monday at Stadium Australia in Sydney.
Hopefully by then we’ve got a new weapon in attack, a fit Sam Kerr with a fully functioning left calf!
There was so much to like about Monday’s performance, but more than anything, it was the collective display. There were no passengers in the Matildas’ XI, with everyone playing their part.
Raso was the headline act with her brace, but Caitlin Foord’s revertion to a wider attacking role on the left was shrewd, allowing her to play her natural position and she delivered in spades, likely giving Canada right-back Jayde Riviere nightmares for some time.
Foord’s combination with captain Steph Catley – who was willing to get forward – down the left set the tone, with one of that pair involved in all four of the goals. Foord and Catley combined to set up Raso’s opening goal, with the latter darting in behind the defence.
It was the Arsenal duo again who crafted the opportunity for Raso’s 13th-minute chance that was well saved by Canada goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan. They persisted and it was Catley’s corner that led to Raso’s opportunistic goal for 2-0, before Foord’s well-timed run from the left-back’s lofted release that set up Mary Fowler’s close-range finish for 3-0. Catley would take the penalty for 4-0.
Australia learned some lessons, replacing the lofted diagonal balls into the box from the previous two games, with an approach where they’d pass or run through their opponents to create chances in attack.
Everyone did their job. Mackenzie Arnold has had some unconvincing moments at this World Cup but she made saves when called upon in the second half. Back pair Clare Hunt Alanna Kennedy were more assured on the ball, while Ellie Carpenter had her best game yet.
It must be said, after the initial excitement of Australia’s early goal, Canada had plenty of possession but the Matildas kept their shape, with the advanced Emily van Egmond cutting passing lines and angles to slow down the opposition.
Mary Fowler shrugged off a few turnovers in the first half to show off her skill in the second, getting her reward with a goal, while Kyra Cooney-Cross and Katrina Gorry came into their own as the game wore on, with Canada trying to utilize the central avenues that they were previously denied. Cooney-Cross, in particular, oozed quality and calmness with some of her touches in the final 20 minutes.
It’s pretty hard to find much on the Matildas’ end after that performance. However, the one question that still lingers in the back of ardent fans’ minds is why does this side have a habit of needing a backs-against-the-wall situation to bring out the best in them?
Remember four years ago in France, Australia surprisingly lost its opener 2-1 to Italy, before responding with a 3-2 victory over Brazil, after trailing by two goals, prompting Kerr’s “suck on that one” line.
Either way, Gustavsson making tactical adjustments and the team tweaking its attacking approach was a sign of maturity which is comforting moving forward. Gustavsson seemed bullish that we deserved better at his press conference after the Nigeria game, pointing to stats, balls into the box and expected goals, so fine-tuning that approach rather than staying loyal, or perhaps stubborn, to it was good coaching.
Again, there wasn’t much to dislike, so I’ll try to address with a wry sense of humour, but Fowler narrowly dodged becoming a Youtube highlights reel for the wrong reasons with her finish for the third goal after Foord’s good work.
Fowler did well to ghost into the box – although Sophie Schmidt totally fell asleep after seeming to have her covered – and get into the right spot to receive Foord’s cutback. It must be said Fowler didn’t have much time to react but her left-foot shot actually went behind her right leg, before hitting the post and trickling across the line. I’m pretty sure she didn’t mean that, but it’s all academic given it crossed the line.
Without wanting to pile on the Canadians after their premature exit, they’ll rue their defending from corners, namely goalkeeper Sheridan who allowed a rare Olimpico from Ireland’s Katie McCabe in their second group game. There was a sense of déjà vu for Australia’s second goal when Catley’s corner should’ve been claimed by the keeper, instead getting a light touch on it directly into Quinn’s legs and falling back kindly to Raso to sweep home.
— CommBank Matildas (@TheMatildas) July 31, 2023