MELBOURNE, Australia – The Matildas are on the brink of crashing out of a home World Cup if they don’t come up with a result against Canada on Monday night at AAMI Park in Melbourne.
The Matildas have the weight of a nation on their shoulders as they prepare for a match that will likely define the national team and coach Tony Gustavsson’s legacy in Australia.
Gustavsson has said that it’s a failure if Australia doesn’t make it out of the group stage.
Australia currently sits in third place in Group B with three points. A 3-2 loss to Nigeria on Thursday has put the Matildas in a precarious situation where they will likely need three points.
On the other side of the pitch, Canada can qualify for the round of 16 with a win or a draw against Australia. The Canadians are coming off a 2-1 victory of the Republic of Ireland.
The fate of Sam Kerr’s calf continues to be the biggest talking point in Australia.
The 29-year-old Kerr has been splashed across Australian newspapers since the World Cup started. You can’t turn on a television news program without seeing an update on the state of Kerr’s calf.
Gustavsson has been relentlessly hounded by Australian media for round the clock updates. Has Kerr trained, how much has she trained, how much can she play, and will she start? Not wanting to tip his hand, Gustavsson continues to duck and weave inquiries.
“We’re going to have a meeting tonight with the medical team and Sam to discuss what the possibilities are for her to play tomorrow,” Gustavsson told reporters at Australia’s press conference in Melbourne on Sunday. “Then we’re going to do some tests tomorrow to see what it looks like. We need to balance how many minutes is she available, what are the risks if we manage to go to the playoffs (knockout round). There’s a lot on the table to discuss. We won’t know how exactly we’re going to use her until we’re coming to the stadium tomorrow.”
While Kerr is “believed” to be available it remains to be seen if she will actually play or whether or not it’s all a ruse to deliver some misdirection to Australia’s opponent.
Either way, Canada isn’t getting wrapped up in Kerr watch.
Canada knows the type of quality Kerr brings, but at the end of the day, Canada is playing Australia. The Aussies have more than one player that can step up and create challenges.
“We’ve got to get us right,” Bev Priestman told reporters at Canada’s press conference in Melbourne on Sunday. “If I’m the Australian coach I’ll be doing the same, focusing on getting the players in front of me ready. Ultimately does it affect me? No. How much have I spoke about if she (Kerr) is or if she isn’t? We haven’t. We spoke about what it’s going to take to beat Australia, because Australia aren’t just Sam Kerr. At the end of the day we’ve got to play a group of 11 players that are going to do anything to try and get a result.”
Canada knows what it’s like to play at a home World Cup.
Canada made it out of the group stage when they hosted the 2015 World Cup. Australia is looking to avoid joining co-hosts New Zealand on the sidelines after they were eliminated on Sunday night and became the first Women’s World Cup hosts to miss the knock-out stage.
How is Australia dealing with the pressure?
“It’s part of being in professional sports,” Australia’s Emily van Edmond said. “I think pressure’s a privilege. It’s a home World Cup for us. We know exactly what’s at stake. We definitely don’t shy away from these moments. I think back to 2019 in France in Montpellier we played against Brazil, we were kind of in a similar situation and we came out on top. I’ve got full belief of not only the 23 players that we have here.”
AAMI Park will be sold out as Matildas supporters will be out in full force to cheer on Australia. Having the crowd cheering against Canada isn’t necessarily a disadvantage for a Canadian team that has grown accustomed to playing away from home.
Canada showed that a stadium full of Irish fans wasn’t an obstacle when they came back to beat Ireland.
In two road matches against Australia last September, Canada earned a pair of victories over the Matildas with Adriana Leon scoring all three goals for Canada. A crowd cheering against Canada is just another day at the office and it’s something that Canada has frequently faced.
“That’s noise,” Shelina Zadorsky said. “You have to be able to shut that out and come back to centering yourself to perform. I’ve played in plenty of games where the crowd hasn’t been on the side (Canada) that I’d like them to be on. That’s just part of the game.”
Tactically this is a match that will favour how Canada wants to play.
Priestman’s squad prefers to have the opposition come at them and will look to counter when Australia commits a turnover. Canada wants to get out in transition and attack Australia.
Canada will look to have Australia dictate play and then look for opportunities to break out on the wings and counter with long balls over top and crosses into the Matildas box.
“The Canadians love to win the ball and go straight in behind the positions,” Gustavsson said. “It’s something that we need to be aware of. If that’s the game plan Canada comes out with, we need to handle it in different ways. We need to be good enough on the ball to not get disposed in areas where they want to win it. It might be two teams that like to press and win the ball. They’ll be some moments in the middle of the park.”
The Group of Death has certainly lived up to its moniker and Monday should bring more excitement for Canada, Australia, and Nigeria as two of those teams will advance and one will join Ireland on the outside looking in.
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