After a tough match day 2 of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, our Matildas have bounced back emphatically on Monday evening to secure their place in the knockout stage after topping Group B.
A swathe of former City stars shone brightly in front of a bumper crowd of 27,706 at our spiritual home, Melbourne Rectangular Stadium, as they took on Olympic champions Canada.
Across the ditch in Dunedin, City’s own Hannah Wilkinson and Katie Bowen started for the Football Ferns against Switzerland at Forsyth Barr Stadium in front of 25,947 cheering fans.
The equations were simple. Win and go through. Here’s what happened, through a City-centric lens…
Switzerland 0-0 New Zealand
With everything to play for in their final group stage game, the New Zealand fans knew they had to do everything they could to inspire their Football Ferns on to victory.
For the third straight game, current City stars Hannah Wilkinson and Katie Bowen were joined in the starting XI by club legend and all-time City Women’s appearance leader, Rebekah Stott.
A raucous Kiwi contingent meant that Forsyth Barr Stadium was rocking from kick off, and the Ferns took full advantage and started the brighter of the two teams.
The challenge ahead of them was a cautious Swiss team, resolute in defence, and only needing a point to progress out of the group.
But it would be the Ferns who would generate the game’s first golden chance. Jacqui Hand was inches away from giving her side the lead, but her looping effort that had Swiss keeper Gaelle Thalmann beat, unluckily hit the crossbar.
After half time, the Ferns kept pushing for their goal, but the Swiss defence, who have yet to concede a goal during the WWC, repelled attack after attack, and consigned the Ferns to a group stage exit.
While they will be bitterly disappointed not to have progressed, they can be immensely proud of their best ever performance at a WWC.
Canada 0-4 Australia
There was just something special in the air on a Monday night at Melbourne Rectangular Stadium as the Matildas roared back into form with a dominant 4-0 win over Olympic champions Canada.
No less than four former City stars were named to start by manager Tony Gustavsson for the second game in a row. City legend Steph Catley once again took the captain’s armband in Sam Kerr’s absence, and she was joined by Ellie Carpenter, Emily van Egmond and Alanna Kennedy.
The City connection spread even further to Alanna Kennedy’s club teammate at Manchester City – Mary Fowler also starring for her country.
With an long list of permutations determining the Matildas fate, the clearest one was simply to start well and win.
And start well they did as it only took 9 minutes for Haley Raso (formerly of Manchester City) to open the scoring in a dramatic first half in Melbourne.
Mary Fowler (Man City) thought she had doubled the Matildas lead in the 34 minute, but VAR intervened to disallow the goal for offside.
But their endeavour wasn’t to be dampened as 5 minutes later, Haley Raso tucked away her second of the match from close range to give her side a richly deserved 2-0 lead that they took into half time.
With eyes on the other Group B fixture, the Matildas kept pushing and their persistence was rewarded when Mary Fowler put the result beyond doubt in the 58th minute.
The Canadians kept on fighting, forcing Mackenzie Arnold to make some good saves to keep a clean sheet.
As the match went into added time, the referee was summoned by VAR to check a possible penalty to Australia. It didn’t take long before the penalty was given and up stepped City legend Steph Catley…
With confidence, she beat the Canadian keeper to her right and sent not only the Australian crowd into a frenzy but also the Australian dugout too.
Australia moves on to the knockout stage after topping Group B, but sadly New Zealand’s tournament comes to an end after the finished 3rd in Group A.
Australia v Runner-up Group D
Monday 7 August, 8:30pm KO (AEST)
Live on Channel 7 & Optus Sport