The Matildas can dare to dream after seeing off Canada 4-0 to book their place in the Round of 16, writes Nick D’Urbano at Melbourne Rectangular Stadium.
One more day. One more big performance. One more huge effort.
That’s all millions of Australians across the country were asking for on Monday night when the Matildas took the field against Canada in their final group stage game with their World Cup destiny on the line.
They answered the call.
Under the bright lights of Melbourne Rectangular Stadium, a series of early knockout punches from the Matildas helped secure a 4-0 victory and – as a result – a place in the Round of 16 of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Suddenly, the host nation can dare to dream again.
“We know we might not have the best team on paper, we might not have the most top players in the top clubs in the top league, but we have something else that no one can take away from this team, and that’s the identity and the DNA and the belief that we’ve seen,” Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson said in his post-game press conference.
“Then being at home… with the support of all the fans, we have something unique, which means we know we can beat anyone any given day when we come up with our A game.”
Two goals from Hayley Raso in the first-half, and another from the returning Mary Fowler – after having one disallowed earlier – plus a Steph Catley penalty, sent the fans on Swan Street into absolute delirium.
Now, the focus turns to Stadium Australia, back where it all started on July 20 against the runners-up in Group D – where the Matildas could face second place from a cohort of European champions England, Denmark, China or Haiti.
It means for the first time, an Australian team has topped a group at a senior men’s or women’s World Cup.
Kerr remains on the bench, Fowler seizes the moment
After all the doomsday scenarios that rang around after last week’s shock loss to Nigeria, the Matildas had to respond. They quite simply had no other choice. It was win, or quite basically, get knocked out.
Momentarily, thoughts of a deep run were out the window, replaced with the urgency of needing to secure three points, just to quell the nasty prospect of a group stage exit – that would have been nothing more than a complete, unmitigated failure – something even acknowledged by those in charge ahead of the crunch game.
Fowler was drafted straight back into the starting lineup after recovering from concussion, replacing Cortnee Vine in the starting lineup, meaning Caitlin Foord started out on the left with the Manchester City attacker leading the line alongside Emily van Egmond.
Every attacking foray into the final third was met with the noise reaching fever pitch as the 27,706 supporters in attendance willed on each movement with a sense of anxious anticipation.