Two days before a match that will decide its future at the FIFA Women’s World Cup, Canada exuded calm.
That despite news from Brisbane that Australia star striker Sam Kerr is fit to play against the Canadians in Monday’s (July 31) Group B finale at Melbourne Rectangular Stadium.
“We’re ready to go. We’re excited,” midfielder Julia Grosso said after a team gym session Saturday. “We know this is a very important game, but I think this team always rises to the occasion with these big games.”
“I think there’s a calm confidence,” added centre back Shelina Zadorsky. “But we’re not naive to the fact that every game is a challenge.”
“Being Canada, we’ve been in this situation before,” said forward Cloe Lacasse. “We know what it’s all about.”
The top two teams in each of the eight first-round groups advance to the knockout round. Canada (1-0-1) could finish anywhere from first to third in its pool.
The good news is the permutations favour the seventh-ranked Olympic champions. They will advance to the knockout round with a win or draw, and could even progress with a defeat, provided No. 40 Nigeria loses to No. 22 Ireland and the tiebreakers fall the right way.
The 10th-ranked Matildas (1-1-0) need to win to be certain of progressing. A draw will also work if Nigeria loses by two goals.
Australia has not gone out in the group stage since 2003. Canada’s last early exit was in 2011, when it failed to win a game and finished last in the tournament in a disastrous showing.
Nigeria just needs to avoid defeat to move on. The Super Falcons have the edge over Canada in goals scored and would finish atop the group if both teams win Monday.
And while Canada just needs a single point to move on, Lacasse says the team wants more.
“I don’t think we’re a team to settle for the minimum,” she said. “We’re not going to go in there wanting a draw. We want the (win), we want the three points and we want to be top of this group.”
Finishing atop the pool means avoiding the winner of Group D, with No. 4 England in the driver’s seat there. The Group B winner will face the runner-up in Group D, which is currently No. 13 Denmark by virtue of a tiebreaker over No. 14 China.
Canada also wants to make a statement by winning what is considered one of the toughest groups at the tournament.
“Every team in this group is a formidable opponent,” said Grosso. “Everyone showed that they belong at the World Cup … so to come out on top of this group, it’s going to be a very strong footing going forward.”
Canada is 8-7-3 all-time against Australia and has won the last three meetings, including last year’s 1-0 and 2-1 victories in Brisbane and Sydney, respectively. The Canadians are 6-2-2 against the Matildas this century.
Adriana Leon scored all three goals in the two most recent victories.
The Canadians rallied for a 2-1 comeback victory over Ireland after playing Nigeria to a scoreless draw in their tournament opener. Australia was upset 3-2 by Nigeria after edging Ireland 1-0.
Asked if the tournament has seen the best of Canada, Grosso said there’s “lots to come.”
There are some questions still to be answered with the health of the team. Captain Christine Sinclair limped off the field after an impactful spell as a second-half substitute against Ireland, while centre back Kadeisha Buchanan, dealing with illness and taking a ball to the torso, exited early.
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press