In the 86th minute, Sam Kerr saw the moment had come to pull up her stockings and tear strip after strip from her leg. More specifically, of the nation’s calf. When it comes to the World Cup, there has been no topic that has been more preoccupying for Australians in recent weeks than the question: When will one of the world’s best strikers, who has scored 63 goals in 121 international appearances, become her home country’s top scorer? Does he regain his fitness after a muscle injury?
This came before the final group match against Canada on Monday night. “I’ll be there, I’ll be ready,” Kerr said. The Chelsea player returned to the lineup, but was not in the starting lineup. Coach Tony Gustafsson stressed that he wanted to carefully consider the number of minutes Kerr could play and the risks that might accompany that.
After all, there was a lot at stake: a 1-0 win in the opening match over Ireland was followed by a 2-3 defeat to Nigeria. Australia now had to beat Canada, otherwise the second host nation would likely have said goodbye immediately after eliminating New Zealand on Sunday. That would have taken the euphoria and attention away from the tournament – and would have been a historic event: in the history of the Women’s World Cup, every host country has managed to reach the knockout stage until the ninth edition.
“There’s something very special about this team,” says Australia coach Gustafsson.
But then it didn’t even take Sam Kerr to stop that. The Matildas started so determinedly and with so much attacking intensity that they were already celebrating in the ninth minute. Haile Raso’s goal was initially disallowed for offside, but was disallowed after a VAR check. Olympic champion Canada looked unsettled by the early deficit, and 40-year-old Christine Sinclair tried to break free after 20 minutes in her 326th international, but fell short – and then had to watch Raso surge after a corner kick (39).
Canada coach Bev Priestman replaced four players in the first half, but that did not achieve the necessary calm, order and dynamism. The history of this tournament may have played a role in the end. Your team played this World Cup under difficult circumstances: a dispute with their federation was over equal treatment, reduced funds and payouts. At the beginning of the year, Priestman described it as difficult, tiring and emotional.
With Mary Fowler winning 3-0 (58th), the match was essentially over. Kerr realized she was no longer needed and freed herself from the bandages after a few minutes. Steve Catley scored the final point in front of 27,706 spectators at Melbourne’s rectangular stadium from a penalty kick in the third minute of stoppage time. Because Nigeria (now second) and Ireland tied 0-0, Canada had to unexpectedly return home early after the preliminary round. This means that the front-runner for the title has been eliminated.
“Someone asked on Sunday, ‘Is this a legacy-defining moment? Is this a crossroads moment? Yes, it was, and we haven’t been ashamed of it,'” Gustafson said. “There is something very special about this team.”
“Internet nerd. Avid student. Zombie guru. Tv enthusiast. Coffee advocate. Social media expert. Music geek. Professional food maven. Thinker. Troublemaker.”