Matildas trash Canada to reach World Cup knockouts

The Matildas have smashed Olympic champions Canada 4-0 in an emphatic victory that propels Australia into the Women’s World Cup round of 16.

The Aussies kept their cup dreams alive by thumping Canada in a do-or-die match late on Monday in Melbourne, also making history to finish at the top of their group.

And the Matildas did it without star captain Samantha Kerr, who now has another week to prove her fitness for the knockout stages.

The epic win sent reigning Olympic champion Canada – which remained scoreless – crashing out of the tournament.

The Australians needed to win to avoid an embarrassing group stage exit without relying on Ireland to beat Nigeria.

They will now finish top of group B with six points, after Nigeria drew 0-0 with Ireland in the other game to claim second and knock out Canada.

The Matildas will return to Brisbane on Tuesday and prepare to play the team who finished second in Group D, most likely Denmark or China, in Sydney on August 7.

“I never, ever doubted the players in terms of stepping up and performing well,” coach Tony Gustavsson said.

“We knew it was going to be tough but I knew the performance was going to be solid.”

The Matildas could have folded after Thursday’s demoralising 3-2 loss to Nigeria that left their World Cup on the brink – and that stand-in captain Steph Catley noted “wasn’t good enough.”

Four days later, after sharing some honest truths, they looked a completely different team.

‘Fire in their eyes’

The manner in which the Matildas knocked out Canada – minus Kerr, but with patience, maturity and a hard-nosed determination, has them believing they can go on and do anything.

Hayley Raso scored a first-half brace to give Australia the upper hand with emerging star Mary Fowler adding a third in the 58th minute.

Hometown hero Steph Catley buried a penalty to seal a famous victory in front of 27,706 fans at Melbourne’s AAMI Park and top spot in Group B.

Mackenzie Arnold pulled off a magnificent save in the 67th minute to maintain a clean sheet.

Shifted to the left wing, with Fowler returning from concussion, Caitlin Foord starred all night and combined brilliantly with vice-captain Catley.

Right-back Ellie Carpenter was relentless while Emily van Egmond, who held her spot ahead of Cortnee Vine, justified her selection with a cool-headed performance in Australia’s front two.

Centre-backs Clare Hunt and Alanna Kennedy were calm-headed while Kyra Cooney-Cross and Katrina Gorry were busy all night in midfield.

“There was a fire in everyone’s eyes and I just knew everyone was out there to do everything they could to win at all costs,” Catley said.

“It was a mature performance, to be honest. They had a lot of the ball. They’re an incredible team. They defend well, they keep the ball, they create chances.

“The way we defended together and the way that we countered that was mature.

“At times in the past, we’ve let moments like that get the better of us and I think it shows we’ve come a long way and we’re ready for a tournament like this.”

Australia defeated Canada as captain Sam Kerr (centre) watched from the sidelines. Photo: Getty

Defender Ellie Carpenter admitted the backs-to-the-wall factor inspired the victory.

“But we need this every match now and we’re not going to get too far ahead of ourselves,” she said.

“We need to reproduce that performance – because if we play like that, we can beat anyone.”

In pulling through, the Matildas delivered the perfect response to the pressure that had been piling on Gustavsson.

He insisted his charges could deliver without their backs to the wall, but admitted their “never say die” attitude will help in the knockouts.

“Just the fact that it is must-win all the way through I think helps this team because it means the pressure will be on every single game,” Gustavsson said.

“If we can have the same mindset moving forward, it feels really good.”

Fans cheer Australia’s thundering victory in Melbourne. Photo: AAP

Matildas superstar Kerr remains under an injury cloud but has another seven days in which to prove her fitness ahead of the round of 16.

Kerr was medically cleared to play a role off the bench and prepared to risk further damage to her troublesome left calf if Australia needed her on Monday night. But her teammates heeded their captain’s request to get the job done without her.

“The only words Sam said to the team was, ‘make sure you win without me so I can get another week to try to recover and get healthy’,” Gustavsson said.

“The team responded and said, ‘yes, we will, you sit on the bench tonight and we’ll win for you’.

“You could see that commitment from the players, ‘let’s do it so Sam gets another week’.

“Having that belief as a team [to be without], in my opinion, the best striker in the world, which I think Sam is, and still go out and play the fluid football we did against the Olympic champions and score four goals, I think is very impressive.”

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