BY Neil Davidson ·
Canada leaves the FIFA Women’s World Cup early and shell-shocked. And, in some cases, in tears.
The Olympic champion Canadians were put to the sword Monday in a shocking, lopsided 4-0 loss to Australia.
It was not pretty unless you were Australian. The 10th-ranked Matildas needed to win to be sure of moving on to the tournament’s knockout round and they wasted little time getting the job done.
It was one-way traffic from the get-go.
Hayley Raso scored twice as Canada’s vaunted defense was carved open in the first half. It could have been 3-0 at the break but a third Australian goal was ruled offside.
Canada failed to put a shot on target in the first half and looked rattled.
And It got worse as Mary Fowler made it 3-0 in the 58th minute. Rubbing salt in the wound, Steph Catley scored on a stoppage-time penalty after a video review confirmed a foul against Canada’s Jessie Fleming on the edge of the box.
Veteran midfielder Sophie Schmidt, who had previously said she was retiring from international football, said after the game she was “gutted, heartbroken.”
“I feel really terrible. I feel like we let down Canadians who woke up early to watch that game,” she added, referencing the 6 a.m. ET kickoff. “Australia came out strong and executed their game plan perfectly. They built momentum.”
Fleming and defender Vanessa Gilles fought back tears as they spoke to reporters.
A bad night to have a bad night,” said Fleming. “I just feel a lot of disappointment. We have a world-class staff back there with us and world-class fans and I don’t think we represented them well enough tonight. I just think this team has so much more in us and such a better performance. That was not seen tonight.”
“The Aussies outdid us today, there’s no hiding from that,” said Gilles.
A draw or win would have moved the seventh-ranked Canadians into the round of 16. But they soon found themselves with a mountain to climb before a partisan crowd announced at 27,706 at Melbourne Rectangular Stadium.
And now they go home after three games, finishing third in Group B with a 1-1-1 record. They are the first defending Olympic champion not to get out of the first round of a World Cup.
It’s Canada’s worst finish at the tournament since it went winless in 2011 and finished last. It’s likely also the Canadian women’s worst game in recent years.
And it’s another body blow for Canada Soccer in a year blighted by a bitter labor dispute, although head coach Bev Priestman and her players refused to point the finger at the off-field distractions.
“Has it been a really really tough year? Absolutely,” she said. “But at the end of the day, we came here tonight thinking we should have been able to win. And we didn’t. And we have to reflect on that.”
Talismanic Canadian captain Christine Sinclair, who came off the bench in last Wednesday’s 2-1 win over Ireland, returned to the starting lineup but was one of four players substituted at halftime as Priestman looked for answers. One wonders how long the 40-year-old icon, the world’s all-time leading scorer, will keep going.
In departing her sixth World Cup, the classy captain took some blades of grass from the field with her as a souvenir from her 326th international appearance.
Asked what was next for her, Sinclair replied: “I have no idea.”
While this tournament is over, a two-game Olympic qualifier with No. 43 Jamaica looms in late September.
The Canadians knew a loss Monday might not end their campaign, providing No. 40 Nigeria was beaten by No. 22 Ireland and the tiebreakers were in their favor. Nigeria and Ireland played to a 0-0 draw, snuffing out that scenario.
Australia (2-1-0) wins the group with Nigeria (1-0-2) also advancing. Ireland (0-2-1) finishes fourth.
“Football can be cruel sometimes and I think tonight it was cruel,” said Priestman. “We got punished. We got an early goal (against us) and I think the team lacked belief.
“I didn’t come here today thinking I was going home, that we were going home. But these are the moments that make you. And it hurts like hell now but we’ll learn (from it).”
Priestman credited Australia for its performance. But she was short on answers on why her team was “as rattled as what we’ve seen,” seemingly still processing the disastrous performance during the post-game news conference.
She cited mental performance on deadlines with pressure and the team learning to deal with a target on its back as Olympic champion.
“That’s new territory and for me, that’s the difference,” Priestman said. “The group is actually deeper and arguably more talented in some regards (than the team that won Tokyo gold).”
Australia faces the Group D runner-up while Nigeria takes on the Group D winner in the round of 16, with both games set for Aug. 7.
No. 4 England (2-0-0) currently tops Group D with No. 13 Denmark (1-1-0) second, ahead of No. 14 China (1-1-0) on a tiebreaker. The final positions in Group D will be decided Tuesday when England takes on China in Adelaide and winless Haiti faces Denmark in Perth.
Source : https://www.cbc.ca/sports/soccer/worldcup/canada-australia-2023-womens-world-cup-recap-1.6922758