Australia storm into Women’s World Cup last 16 as rout sends Canada out

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True to their catchphrase, the “Never Say Die” Matildas were not going to die wondering. In the biggest match in their 45-year history, with the weight of a nation on their shoulders, Australia were in vintage form in Melbourne on Monday night. Showing the composure and attacking flair that had deserted them in their first two matches, the Matildas secured a berth in the last 16 with a four-goal thrashing of the Olympic champions Canada.

It was a must-win clash – and the Matildas duly triumphed. Victory was vindication for the head coach, Tony Gustavsson, who had faced increasing criticism after his side narrowly beat the Republic of Ireland to open the tournament and then lost against Nigeria four days ago.

Those memories were swiftly forgotten on Monday, as four unanswered goals – two from Hayley Raso, one from Mary Fowler and a penalty from Steph Catley – showed the Matildas’ attacking class and defensive solidity. Canada managed barely a handful of shots on target all evening.

The convincing win – Australia’s biggest at the World Cup – leaves them top of Group B, after Ireland and Nigeria played out a goalless draw in Brisbane. The Matildas will face the runners-up of Group D, likely to be Denmark or China, in Sydney in a week’s time. Canada, having entered the match in pole position to qualify for the knockout round, now find themselves the first heavyweight team to exit the tournament.

As the Matildas walked out for their warm-up, a full moon beamed down and an Australian classic blared: New Sensation by INXS. But there was nothing new about this particular sensation – while the Australians went through their paces the captain, Sam Kerr, stood still. Since she sustained a calf injury on the eve of the tournament, the Matildas have sweated on her fitness. Her dazzling pink boots were on but she remained clad in a heavy jacket; Kerr started on the bench and looked set to stay there for this critical encounter.

No matter. Following a nervy opening period of play, Australia’s Arsenal duo Catley and Caitlin Foord began to combine dangerously on the left-hand flank. With the forward Fowler returning to the starting XI following a concussion, Foord shifted wide to great effect.

The capacity 27,706 crowd in Melbourne went wild. And then, belatedly, a lineswoman raised her flag. Offside? Canada moved to reset, before first the big screen and then the referee, Stéphanie Frappart, indicated a VAR review. The crowd held its collective breath. A minute passed in anxious silence. Then suddenly: goal. The crowd did not bemoan getting a second opportunity to celebrate.

VAR would rear its ugly head again. Later in the half, with the Australia counterattack continuing to prove potent, Fowler placed the ball for the on-rushing wing-back Ellie Carpenter. The Canada defender Jayde Riviere’s scuffed clearance found its way to Raso again, whose shot was deflected into Sheridan and bounced away. Pandemonium ensued in the six‑yard box before Fowler, wearing her trademark black gloves to ward off the Melbourne winter, charged at the ball and smashed it into the net: 2-0.

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