After a wild night in Perth, the Canadian women’s soccer team returned to its training base in Melbourne on Thursday to prepare for a crucial match against Australia at the FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Hours after landing, seventh-ranked Canada found itself in a Group B logjam thanks to No. 40 Nigeria’s 3-2 upset win over No. 10 Australia in the final game of the day.
With one round of games remaining, it’s all up for grabs in Group B. Olympic champion Canada could finish first or second, booking its ticket to the round of 16, or place third and head home early.
In the final group games Monday, it’s Canada versus Australia in Melbourne and Nigeria versus Ireland in Brisbane.
Australia has to beat Canada to move on. The Canadians can advance with a draw or win.
Canada could still move on with a defeat — as long as Nigeria also loses and the final goal difference favours the Canadians.
The team that finishes atop Group B will avoid the winner of Group D, expected to be either No. 4 England or No. 13 Denmark, in the round of 16. The Group B runner-up faces the Group D winner.
But just surviving the opening round is the immediate task at hand.
Canada is coming off a 2-1 comeback win over Ireland on a wet miserable evening Wednesday. The Canadians rebounded from a subpar performance in the first half, looking shell-shocked after conceding a fourth-minute Olimpico goal by Irish star Katie McCabe off a corner.
WATCH | Canada comes alive in 2nd half to beat Ireland:
Canada coach Bev Priestman sent on Christine Sinclair and Sophie Schmidt along with defender Shelina Zadorsky to open the second half, a trio that entered the game with a combined 635 international caps under their belt.
Sinclair and Schmidt showed that experience with their composure on the ball, completing passes that allowed the Canadians to connect again.
“Our team MO is that we’re resilient. We do not break. We bend,” said Schmidt, whose perfect pass set up Adriana Leon for the winning goal in the 53rd minute. “And we came back in the second half stronger.
“Sinc just came in at halftime and was like ‘Welcome to the World Cup. This is what it’s all about.”‘
But Schmidt acknowledged the Canadians will have to take it up a notch against Australia.
“It’s an exciting game. Home team. Lots of fans,” said Schmidt. “It’s going to be rocking in that stadium. I think we match up well against Australia. Similar playing styles. But yeah, I fancy our chances. We just need to continue and grow and build because the performance we had out there tonight [against Ireland] is not going to cut it against Australia.”
WATCH | Soccer North reacts to Canada’s draw with Nigeria:
The pro-Irish crowd in Perth gave the Canadians a taste of what is to come Monday at the Melbourne Rectangular Stadium where Canada played Nigeria to a scoreless draw in its tournament opener. Priestman called the Irish game “basically a rehearsal” for the Australia matchup.
Also evidence of what the Olympic champions can accomplish when they hit top gear.
“It’s a great experience for us to move forward from. When we play brave, we can be unstoppable,” Priestman said.
Three-match winning streak vs. Aussies
The Canadians played the Matildas twice on Australia soil last September so knows what awaits them.
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.
Leon scored all three goals in the two most recent victories.
Despite her team’s recent success against Australia, Priestman warned a tough challenge awaits.
There is a question-mark over Sinclair, who did not speak to the media immediately after the Ireland win so she could be checked out following an impactful second half off the bench.
“She looked like she was limping at the end there,” Priestman, awaiting a full medical report, said after the Ireland game.
The Australians are also hurting at the tournament with captain/star striker Sam Kerr yet to play because of a calf injury.
The Matildas were forced into damage control mode when midfielder Kyra Cooney-Cross told a media availability Monday that Kerr had torn her calf. A Football Australia spokesman subsequently denied that but would not confirm the extent of the injury or a timeline for the Chelsea star’s return.
Priestman noted the Canadians had faced Kerr during the two September meetings.
Kerr isn’t the only walking wounded in the Australia camp, however. Mary Fowler, who was set to start for Kerr, and defender Aivi Luik are both dealing with concussions suffered in training. Veteran forward Kyah Simon is still working her way back to full fitness in the wake of knee surgery.
Midfielder Quinn, who goes by one name, said the Canadians are feeling good going into the matchup with the tournament co-hosts.
“I think we’re just getting the World Cup jitters out,” they said. “We’re ready to go.”