Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson giving instructions to Kyra Cooney-Cross before she enters the match. Photo Credit: Izhar Khan

The Matildas delivered a strong, responsive performance against Canada but there's still plenty to do ahead of the Women's World Cup.

In front of almost 27,000 people, the Matildas welcomed Canada to Sydney for the first football match at the new Sydney Football Stadium, putting up a valiant effort in defeat.

If momentum in sports is a thing, the Matildas showed it on Tuesday night against Canada, starting the match the same way they ended the first one, on the attack and putting pressure on the Canadian defence.

It paid off almost immediately as Mary Fowler scored the opener in the third minute for the home side as the Matildas capitalised on a defensive turnover.

It was not the only example of momentum carrying over. Australia looked far more comfortable in defence, in transitional play and in driving the attack forward.

In attack, they were taking advantage of the speed that Cortnee Vine provided on the right wing to advance the ball into dangerous areas, and the footballing IQ of Caitlin Foord on the left to find the right pass at the right time.

If the first half belonged to Canada in the first game, there was no question the first half in the second game belonged to the Matildas, barely allowing Canada anything in the attacking third. When Canada did break through, the backline held up making a number of key tackles.

As quickly as Fowler scored in the first half, Canada’s Adrianna Leon equalled the feat in the second half, scoring in the 48th minute from a play she started. Passing it to Christine Sinclair, who shot, before a rebound allowed her to pass it back to Leon, who scored with ease.

With a half-time substitute of Vine, who was replaced by Emily Gielnik, it changed the chemistry on the right side, as Gielnik and Charlotte Grant were not linking up as effectively and it was something Canada was able to exploit on several occasions early in the second half.

Speaking post-match, Gustavsson was asked about why the Vine sub was made.

“We had three pre-planned subs. Cortnee Vine, Foord, and Meeks (Tameka Yallop),” Gustavsson explained.

“We evaluated Vine at half-time. She did a strength test, and she lost 50 per cent of the strength in her hammy and couldn’t continue unfortunately because she had a really good first half.”

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Leon would strike again in the 64th minute to make it 2-1, finding a gap in the backline which had struggled since the resumption of play, despite no substitutions being made to the back four.

With the Matildas beginning to tire from the pressure that Canada was applying, Tony Gustavsson was hoping that a double substitution of Alex Chidiac and Clare Wheeler would be enough to revitalise the home side and find a late equaliser.

The Matildas began to generate some pressure as time was winding down late in the match, and with Quinn involved in a nasty collision which left them lying in the middle of the 18 yard box, the home side looked to take advantage of being up a player, but were unable to do so as they returned to the field a couple of minutes into stoppage time.

The late pressure would keep up from Australia, but like the first game, it was to no avail as a late equaliser was nowhere to be found.

The first half performance from Australia was of delight to Canada’s coach, Bev Priestman.

“I got what I expected from Australia in that first half,” Priestman said.

“Australia really put us to work.”

For a coach under a lot of external pressure, Gustavsson showed just what can happen when you trust the process. 

In this match, a significant portion of the problem was injuries and a lack of player availability. 

“It’s frustrating, because we felt those 45 minutes was maybe the first time in a very long time when we packaged a performance consistently for 45 minutes in a row,” Gustavsson said.

“We’ve seen patches before as I’ve spoken about. Five minutes here, seven minutes there, but this was a 45 minute complete performance where we’re actually dominating Canada, [the] Olympic champions.

“We had six starters from the Olympics not even available coming into the game.

“I think if you look at the 45 minutes today, I hope that we saw some improvement in terms of the fact that we can dominate a top team [and] not just compete with them.

“To be able to do that with six key players out meaning I hope that we can see, or you guys can see, that maybe a year and a half ago if we played Canada a year a half ago with six key injuries we wouldn’t have been able to dominate them like we did in the 45.

“We still have ways to go in terms of the World Cup, meaning we need to put [a] 90 minute solid performance together.” 

If the side can find a way to play its best game for the entire match, then Australia will compete with the best teams in the world and with the World Cup on home soil, should be able to make a deep run. 

The solution just needs to be found to the problems that have been created, whether that is injuries, depth, tactics, or something else, and it needs to be found fast.

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