• Joey Lynch, Australia Correspondent


Joey Lynch is a Melbourne-based sports journalist, AYA Cancer advocate, cynical centre-half and Zack Ryder mark. Primarily working on football, he has covered the Socceroos, Matildas, A-League, W-League, Y-League, the Australian grassroots and beyond.

Jul 31, 2023, 08:30 AM ET

Australia stormed into the FIFA Women’s World Cup round of 16 on Monday after hammering reigning Olympic champions Canada 4-0, eliminating them from the tournament.

Launching forward with surgical precision as they countered an attempted Canadian counter in the ninth minute, Mackenzie Arnold, Caitlin Foord, and Steph Catley combined down the left flank before the latter delivered a cross that fell for Hayley Raso to send home.

After Mary Fowler was denied by VAR, Raso grabbed her brace when she turned in a corner just before halftime to secure a vital buffer.

Fowler, in possibly her best game in a Matildas shirt, then had her goal after halftime when Foord found her in the box in the 58th minute.

Putting the cherry on the sundae, Catley got a deserved goal from the spot in injury time – her rapturous and the Matildas’ celebration matched in energy by a packed-out Melbourne Rectangular Stadium (MRS).

**- Women’s World Cup:Home Squads Fixtures Podcast**

Rapid reaction

1. The Highs and the Lows

Four years ago, it was the Miracle of Montpellier and a defiant message to “suck on that one” that pulled a Matildas World Cup campaign back from the edge of an abyss, a moment wherein Australia’s women confronted (footballing) oblivion and rose to meet it head-on.

Who knows if Monday evening’s game earns itself a similar moniker to that famous win over Brazil – using miracle again, even if the alliteration works with Melbourne, feels a bit trite and a furious comeback wasn’t needed this time – but the emotional release that was evident around MRS as the Matildas downed Canada and secured their progression to the round of 16 was telling.

When referee Stephanie Frappart emerged from reviewing Raso’s opener to declare that, yes, it was a goal, the stadium exploded in a joyous tide of noise and flailing limbs.

In the aftermath of Fowler’s would-be second, cameras settled upon a fan in a Matildas’ beanie sobbing into the arms of the person to her left, unable to suppress the sheer (fleeting) joy.

When Raso scored her second and darted towards the corner flag, a gentleman sitting in the front row – clad in a green and gold chef’s outfit – struggled to unfurl his banner under the sheer weight of it all.

For those on the pitch, the reaction to Catley’s penalty said it all. Despite the goal effectively being little more than window dressing in the grand scheme of things, the defender’s roar as she sprinted away from the spot and into a massive group hug spoke to the load that the players had been carrying on their shoulders and the exhilaration and pride they were feeling as a group.

By the time the full-time whistle blew and the result was confirmed, it was almost as if the entire nation, after spending the past four days running through every doomsday scenario in their heads and trying to spiritually prepare themselves for a reality in which Australia crashed out of a home World Cup, could collectively exhale.

Yes, expectation and the Sam Kerr conundrum will again begin to nag away in the days ahead, as well as what an exit in the round of 16 would mean.

But for one night, at least, everything went right. Everything was good. The Matildas were good. How good.

2. Starting fast

Australia was always going to start strongly. Bursting out of the blocks full of energy and intent is one of the hallmarks of this side’s play under Gustavsson, after all. But when you added onto that the stakes associated with the contest and the ‘never say die’, ‘us against the world’ siege mentality that seemingly brings out the best in every Australian side and the added motivation (and inspiration) of almost the entirety of a filled-to-the-brim MRS at their backs, the Matildas were only ever going to emerge from that tunnel breathing fire.

Given the travails that had been demonstrated against the well-organised defensive blocks of Ireland and Nigeria, capitalising on this early energy was crucial. Needing to force the issue and secure a win to progress from the group, the Australians were effectively going to be playing into Canada’s biggest strength with every moment that passed without a goal; Bev Preistman’s side, needing only a draw to progress, able to sit back, soak up pressure and seize upon any moments of weakness up the other end – the same model that had delivered them gold at Tokyo 2020.

The ninth-minute opener, therefore, served to completely turn the game on its head. Countering their foe’s attempted counter – catching them out of defensive shape – Catley, Foord, and Raso condemned Canada to third place in the group in one swift moment and, in doing so, suddenly forced them into a position wherein they had to take the game on. When Raso struck again just before halftime that pressure only multiplied and the reigning Olympic champions soon proved unable to find an answer.

But Canada seemingly began to shrink with each and every blow sent their way. Priestman changed nigh-on half her side at the halftime break when she made four changes, seeking the same kind of turnaround that had accompanied the reshuffle she had made at the break in the Ireland game, but for all intents and purposes, it appeared as though her side’s head had already left MRS and made their way to the airport before the second-half commenced.

Most striking about the Matildas’ third goal wasn’t the connection between Catley and Foord, or Fowler getting her moment on the world’s biggest stage, but how easy it all looked against what it supposed to be one of the world’s best defences.

By the time the game ended, the Matildas had only needed to control the ball unopposed for 3% of the game, compared to the Canadians’ 48%, and over a quarter of their time spent with the ball had been spent in attacking transition after emerging from a mid-block.

In some way, the game was almost over as soon as Raso’s first strike hit the net.

3. A crucial top of the group

Thanks to Nigeria’s 0-0 draw with Ireland in the simultaneous kick-off in Brisbane, Australia’s win not only ensured they progress to the knockout stages but also means they will do so as the winners of Group B. As a result, they will likely avoid a showdown with England in the round of 16, assuming the European champions get the job done as expected against China and, instead, set up a date with either the Danes or Chinese at Stadium Australia.

While Gustavsson’s side did record a win over a strong Lioness side in a pre-World Cup friendly, the odds still dictate that raising the odds that Sarina Wiegman’s side can be bypassed in a crucial knockout game can only be a good thing for Australia’s hopes of building their momentum as they enter the crucible of sudden-death, knockout football.

Best and worst performers


Steph Catley, Australia: Not only was Australia’s stand-in skipper as strong as ever in the backline, her pinpoint delivery and willingness to get forward proved crucial in Australia’s second and third goals.

Hayley Raso, Australia: ‘Ribbons’ hadn’t really made much of an impact in Australia’s opening two games, with their descent into a cross and inshallah approach not really playing into the winger’s strengths. Her brace this time around ensured that wouldn’t happen again.

Mary Fowler, Australia: Got a well-deserved goal in the second half as she stepped up to fill the Sam Kerr-shaped void in the Matildas’ attack with such aplomb the Chelsea star never even needed to think about risking her calf.

About 27,000 fans in the stands, Australia: There were 27,706 people in the stands at the MRS and it felt like nearly all of them were cheering for Australia. The Canadians had talked about not allowing themselves to be rattled during the lead into the game but, observing it all, it’s hard to say the crowd didn’t play a factor.


**Christine Sinclair, Canada: **Sinclair is a living legend. An icon of not just Canadian football, but global football. However, the 40-year-old was ineffectual throughout the opening half and dragged at halftime.

Canada’s midfield: Sophia Schmidt, who was thrown on as a halftime sub, had spoken about the importance of winning the midfield battle. Come the actual game, though, Canada’s midfield struggled to make an impact.

What the managers, players said


Highlights and notable moments

Australia suddenly became the world’s leading proponent of video review after it determined Catley was onside in the build-up to Raso’s opener.

— Optus Sport (@OptusSport) July 31, 2023

Australia suddenly became the world’s foremost critic of video review after it determined that Carpenter was “making an obvious action which clearly impacts on the ability of an opponent to play the ball” during the build-up to Fowler’s disallowed second.

— Optus Sport (@OptusSport) July 31, 2023

VAR, though, could do nothing about Raso’s second.

— Optus Sport (@OptusSport) July 31, 2023

After previously being denied, Fowler finally got her goal to kill things off.

— Optus Sport (@OptusSport) July 31, 2023

Catley then added the final flourish from the spot.

— Optus Sport (@OptusSport) July 31, 2023

Key stats


Up next

Australia: The Matildas will now return to their training base in Brisbane to prepare for a clash with the second-placed finisher in Group D at Stadium Australia in the Round of 16.

Canada: Canada is going home, the reigning Olympic champions finishing third in Group B and eliminated from the World Cup.