When Canada and Australia stepped out onto the field on Monday evening in Melbourne, there was a catastrophe loading – it was just about whose catastrophe it would be. The co-hosts had suffered a disappointing defeat to Nigeria four days prior, one that meant they almost certainly had to defeat the Olympic champions to avoid crashing out in the group stages of their own Women’s World Cup. Their opponents, meanwhile, had come from behind to beat Ireland in their last game to keep their destiny in their own hands. They only needed a point against the Matildas and they were through.
Given Canada’s defensive solidity, that which saw them grind out result after result at the Olympics two years ago to upset several favourites and win the gold medal, Australia’s general lack of cutting edge thus far and the fact that the talismanic Sam Kerr was only fit enough for a bench role, the home fans were on edge. But they didn’t need to be.
The biggest strength of this Canada team is simply not leaking goals - so that they conceded four in such poor fashion on Monday was quite shocking. Crosses into the box caused chaos, clearances constantly lacked composure and their opponents finally showed calmness to convert chances.
Two years after hitting the highest high in Canadian soccer history, Bev Priestman’s team became the first reigning Olympic champions ever to be eliminated in the group stages of a Women’s World Cup tournament. What on earth happened?