Another day another flight: Brisbane to Melbourne for the final game in Group B: Canada versus Australia. Canada needed to win and needed to win big! We hit the ground in Melbourne the day before the game and got a chance to catch up a big on sleep and calm things down a bit. We landed mid-day and didn't get a chance to get checked in and find lunch until almost 3, so we did not see a whole lot of the city (we saved that for the next day). But we did take advantage of our nice apartment-like hotel rooms to watch matches in the evening. But the real excitement was the evening of July 31, when the home town darlings faced Canada!
We were treated to a marvelous dinner by a fellow Harvard alum (class of '81) who lives in Melbourne and is a Canadian citizen. I had been concerned about her allegiance, but all fears were laid to rest at our pregame dinner.
I had bought a Canada jacket for the occasion and, while I felt very much at home at dinner, upon arriving at the game, I felt like a small dot of red in a sea of yellow. For the most part, the crowd was friendly, energetic, enthusiastic and polite.
We had excellent seats for the match: high up and about 20 yards off of midfield!
The match opened with both teams charged up. Canada looked good with possession, clean passing, and a few forays towards the attacking third. Unfortunately, it took only 9 minutes for Australia to put together a goal-scoring attack. A failed Mathilda's corner kick, recovery fo the ball, ah overlapping run on the left, a cross, a deflection, and a one-touch from Hayley Raso (and a VAR offside check) and it was 1-0 Australia.
Canada responded with a very reasonable strategy: if they don't have the ball, they can't score. So, Canada took control of the game by playing a clinical possession game, racking upwards of 70% possession time. Unfortunately, there was a key mistake in this strategy -- they forgot to incorporate the "and then strategically score" part of it. Canada simply could not put together an effective attack. Worse still, they continued to reveal chinks in their notorious defensive armor, and Australia artfully exploited every one of them.
In the 34th minute, Australia's Mary Fowler took advantage of a Sheridan fumbling save, and drills the ball into the net. Much to the Canadians' relief (the 11 on the field, the 22 plus coaching staff on the side line, and the handful of us in the stands), the Fowler was ruled offsides, much to the dismay of the 27,000 fans in yellow. Canadian joy was shortlived, however -- six minutes later, Hayley Raso was at it again -- this time, another uncontrolled save from Sheridan (off a corner) lands at Raso's feet, and with absolutely no question of an offsides, once again, she sends it flying into the net. Australia: 2-0!
"But wait!" you say; there is a second half to be played. And indeed there was, but it wasn't pretty.
In the 56th minute, world leading goal scorer, Canadian leader, and 6-time women's world cup layer, Christine Sinclair leaves the field. If her teammates cannot pull a rabbit out of the proverbial hate, she will return home (to the greater Vancouver area, I might add) without having scored in her sixth world cup. It doesn't matter for her; she has secured her legacy. But can her teammates pull this one out?
Even with a four-player substitution to mix things up, it appears that the answer is no. Canada still cannot put together consistent attacks, and when they do, the Mathilda's back line is formidable. And lest there be any question, in the 58th minute, Mary Fowler makes up for that offside and blasts the ball just inside the far post. Australia: 3-0!
As if the 3-0 deficit was not bad enough, in the third minute of stoppage time, Fleming's misstep in the box (she stepped on Gorry's foot) turns into a PK. Unlike the spate of missed PKs in the opening rounds, Captain Steph Catley places a perfect shot in the net. Australia: 4-0.
It looks like I shall be following Australia through the knockout stage!
And here is what downtown looks like in Melbourne after your home team wins its group. The next morning, we also discovered a tunnel lit brightly in yellow and green on our way to the airport. If only other countries celebrated their women superstars this much!?