Melbourne: Hayley Raso scored a first half brace and Mary Fowler struck after the break as Australia crushed Canada 4-0 on Monday to storm into the last 16 of the Women’s World Cup and send the Olympic champions spinning out of the tournament.
In front of a febrile crowd at Melbourne Rectangular Stadium, Raso struck in the ninth minute with a low, right-footed shot and doubled down in the 39th from a goalmouth scramble as unused captain Sam Kerr cheered by the touchline.
Fowler made sure of the win with a deft touch in the 58th minute that pinged in off the right post, before stand-in skipper Steph Catley slotted a penalty in stoppage time as a relieved nation celebrated the co-hosts’ advance.
Australia had needed three points from the match to advance after their shock 3-2 defeat by Nigeria.
“It means so much to us,” Raso told Channel 7. “I’m so proud of the girls.
“We had our backs against the walls after (the) last game and we knew that we needed to come out and put in a big performance.
“We showed that never-say-die attitude and we gave it all tonight.” Canada, who had needed a draw to advance, bowed out at the group stage for the first time since 2011 and with regrets with the way it unfolded in Melbourne.
Goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan captured Canada’s heartache as she broke down in tears before Catley’s spot kick.
“Football can be cruel sometimes,” Canada coach Bev Priestman told reporters.
“I think the team lacked belief.
“I didn’t think the team would be as rattled as we’ve seen tonight.” For Australia, there was no need for Kerr to be Australia’s saviour and the striker can rest her injured calf for a week before the co-hosts’ next clash in the last 16, most likely against Denmark.
Top the group
Australia topped Group B on six points, one ahead of Nigeria, who also advanced after a 0-0 draw against Ireland.
Thrilled Australia coach Tony Gustavsson had been under pressure after the Nigeria loss.
“We played Olympic champions in a do or die game with our skipper, one of the best forwards in the world — in my opinion the best forward in the world — on the bench and we win 4-0. That says a lot about the belief in this team,” he said.
Canada’s talismanic captain Christine Sinclair started on the pitch but bowed out of her sixth and final World Cup in disappointment at halftime when Priestman triggered a raft of substitutes.
Australia played with courage and were quickly rewarded when a Catley cross found Raso in the box.
Raso drilled a low shot inside the far post to put Australia in front. Although an offside flag went up, the goal was confirmed by VAR, sending the crowd into raptures.
They almost made it 2-0 minutes later, but Raso’s shot was well saved by Sheridan.
Home fans were roaring again in the 34th minute as Fowler charged in to thump the ball in from close range, with Raso providing the cross.
VAR again intervened, cancelling the goal for offside.
But five minutes later, Raso was celebrating her second strike after Sheridan failed to clear the ball from a set-piece.
Priestman made changes at halftime, with the retiring Sophie Schmidt coming on and blazing over the bar in the 56th minute.
But another Australian raid minutes later ended with Fowler slotting in a cutback pass from Caitlin Foord to blow out the lead.
Worse was to come for Canada as Jessie Fleming clattered into Katrina Gorry just inside the area to concede a penalty, allowing Catley to blast the ball into the net for the coup de grace.
Nigeria advanced to the Women’s World Cup knockout stages for the third time in their history after a draw with Ireland in their final Group B match on Monday, with the African side finishing second in the group behind hosts Australia.
Nigeria will have to wait until Tuesday to discover who their last-16 opponents will be next week in Brisbane, but they side are likely to play European champions England who are favourites to top Group D. “I don’t think anybody, before we got here, believed that we could get out of this group and go through it without losing a match,” Nigeria coach Randy Waldrum said.
“So I’m so proud of them and the effort they put in and so happy for them that they’re getting to experience this.”
Both teams were playing in their away kits to avoid an all-green clash. But Brisbane’s Lang Park was a sea of green in the stands, with plenty of support for Ireland despite their early elimination.
After Irish skipper Katie McCabe flashed an early effort wide, Nigeria came closest to taking the lead in the first half through striker Asisat Oshoala when they pounced on an errant pass from Louise Quinn.
Oshoala was set through on goal with just the keeper to beat but the Barcelona striker fired wide to give Ireland a reprieve.
Seven minutes into the second half, Uchenna Kanu rose above the Ireland defence to direct a header on goal but Courtney Brosnan made a timely save to parry the ball onto the crossbar and away to safety.
“It was an unbelievable ball into the box, one of those teasing ones I thought I could come at the last second. I dropped back and I knew I needed to make a special save on the line, so I just kind of threw my body out,” said Brosnan.
“I wanted to keep us in it. I knew we deserved something from today, so I’m really happy with that.” Brosnan came to Ireland’s rescue again when Nigeria attempted to break through the defence with a clever set-piece routine before the Everton keeper rushed off her line to snatch the ball.
While debutants Ireland go home having earned their first ever point at the World Cup, Nigeria will be looking to better their quarter-final run from 1999.
“We knew this was going to be the group of death, we knew it was going to be hard,” midfielder Toni Payne said.
“If we play like how we’re playing, if we improve on each game, I think we can go all the way to the final.”