Matildas defeat Olympic Champions to secure a place in Round of 16 at FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023

The Matildas have finished top of Group B after a remarkable 4-0 victory over Olympic Champions Canada. A first-half Hayley Raso brace helped Melbourne Rectangular Stadium dare the dream, and the win was sealed with goals to Mary Fowler and Steph Catley in the second half.

Emily van Egmond retained her place in the starting line-up as one of the two central strikers after scoring against Nigeria. Mary Fowler came into the team beside her, replacing Cortnee Vine. While it still looked like a 4-4-2, both in out of possession it looked more like a 4-2-4 – with Caitlin Foord on the left and Hayley Raso on the right pressing as high as van Egmond and Fowler in the middle.

The Matildas got off to the best possible start. Steph Catley found space on the left with an overlapping run, and whipped in a cross. It deflected away from its intended target in Emily van Egmond but found Raso at the back post. The winger took one touch and finished brilliantly. After the run of Catley was initially ruled offside, a VAR review determined that the goal should stand, and Melbourne was sent into raptures.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – JULY 31: Clare Hunt of Australia (L) is chased by Adriana Leon of Canada (R) during the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023 Group B match between Canada and Australia at Melbourne Rectangular Stadium on July 31, 2023 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Richard Callis/Eurasia Sport Images/Getty Images)

The 28-year-old came close to doubling the Matildas lead less than five minutes later after another Catley cross. For a moment, it looked in. It required a wonderful save from Kailen Sheridan low to her right to prevent the goal.

The Olympic champions had a period of sustained possession as they pushed for the equaliser. They had a number of set pieces and were patient as they looked to fashion openings. However, the Matildas defensive woes of four days ago looked to be in the distant past as they kept Canada from creating anything clear-cut.

Australia thought they had their second in the 34th minute. After a series of deflections the ball somehow landed at the feet of Mary Fowler who smashed it into the top of the net from close range. Much to the dismay of the crowd, after a VAR review, the goal was disallowed – Ellie Carpenter was in an offside position and interfering with play as the shot was taken.

They didn’t have to wait long for a goal that counted. A Kyra Cooney-Cross corner found Hayley Raso at the back post, who poked it home for her brace. Australia went into half-time 2-0 up and cruising.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – JULY 31: Hayley Raso (C) of Australia celebrates with teammates Alanna Kennedy (L) and Clare Hunt (R) after scoring her team’s first goal during the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023 Group B match between Canada and Australia at Melbourne Rectangular Stadium on July 31, 2023 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Alex Pantling – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Bev Priestman made a statement at the break, making four substitutions, including taking off the greatest international goalscorer of all time in Christine Sinclair. If she thought these would turn her side’s fortunes around, however, she was mistaken.

Canada continued to struggle to create chances and in the 58th minute, their woes deepened. Mary Fowler got her goal. A wonderful ball released Caitlin Foord who had acres of space on the left. After skipping past defenders all the way to the by-line, her cut-back found Fowler who just about managed to just get enough on the ball for it to trickle over the line off the inside of the post.

It took until the 66th minute for Mackenzie Arnold to really come into the game for the first time. Evelyn Viens found some space in the box, but Arnold was able to save well with her legs. A chance to Sophie Schmidt ten minutes later was blocked well by Clare Hunt.

The team in red pushing for goals meant that space opened up for Australia in behind. Fowler almost had her second after creating a well-fashioned opening in the penalty area, but her shot ricocheted back off the post.

Far from shutting up shop, the Matildas were in dreamland after being awarded in penalty in stoppage time. Who else but Steph Catley to step up to the mark and smash it home, and make it a magical four for Australia.