Canada were forced to come from behind to beat the Republic of Ireland, after Arsenal’s Katie McCabe scored directly from a corner.
An own goal just before half time followed by a winner from Adriana Leon saw the Olympic gold medallists survive a tough battle against the World Cup debutants.
17,065 fans packed into a sold-out Perth Rectangular Stadium and were thoroughly entertained, albeit soaked to the skin after a number of torrential downpours.
Canadian captain Jessie Flemming returned from injury as one of two changes made by Bev Priestman. She took the attacking midfield spot previously occupied by 40-year-old record goalscorer Christine Sinclair, who had a penalty saved against Nigeria in their first group stage match. Evelyn Viens also returned to the starting line up, in place of Deanne Rose, whilst Ireland’s only change was to replace Marissa Sheva with Lucy Quinn.
The Irish had the first chance of the match when Lucy Quinn was released down the right hand side. She hit a low cross towards the six-yard box, where Kyra Carusa slid in to try and tap the ball into the net, but Kailen Sheridan managed to scramble the ball behind for a corner.
Cue magic from Ireland’s star player. McCabe couldn’t have placed the ball any better than the way she managed to loop the corner cross over Sheridan and into the side-netting to give her country an unprecedented lead within the first five minutes. In the pre-match build up, Priestman had said her team were concerned with McCabe’s ‘world-class’ crossing ability – although even that may not have been what she had in mind.
Canada were rattled, and allowed Ireland to continue holding onto the ball. They backed off whilst McCabe strode forwards, all the way into the penalty area, before going ground under pressure .
Ireland continued to getting into dangerous positions, and a one-two between American-born pair Carusa and Sinead Farrelly allowed the latter the space to shoot from the edge of the penalty area. The ball skidded off the wet surface, forcing Sheridan to parry the ball behind for another corner.
Canada then had a gilt-edge opportunity to equalise. Kadeisha Buchanan flicked a cross onto her central-defensive partner Vanessa Gilles, who should have converted from five yards, but skied her shot well over Courtney Brosnan’s crossbar.
After a quiet game against Australia, Carusa was a thorn in the side of the Canadian defence. Buchanan specifically was booked after rugby-tackling her opponent after being given the slip on the half way line. Buchanan then failed to track Carusa’s run in behind again, and short of bringing her down and receiving another card, she could only hope and pray as the forward ran through on goal. Fortunately for the Chelsea defender, Carusa had to take her shot from a tight angle which drew a solid stop from Sheridan.
However, deep into added time, Canada found an equaliser. Julia Grosso picked up the ball towards the corner flag before cutting back onto her right foot and firing a low cross into the penalty area. The ball ricocheted off Megan Connolly, and unfortunately for the Brighton & Hove Albion defender landed just inside the post.
Following a triple substitution at half time, Canada made a much better start to the second half. Jordan Huitema drew a full-stretch save from Brosnan with a curled right-footed shot from the top of the penalty area.
The Canadians would then take the lead moments later. A defence splitting pass from Sophie Schmidt landed at the feet of Adriana Leon, who took a couple of touches to position herself centrally, before firing past Brosnan.
Ireland were not disheartened, and after silky combination play between McCabe and Farrelly on the left hand side, Carusa threw herself at the latter’s cross, heading just over the crossbar.
Canada then had a flurry of chances. Substitute Sinclair headed straight at Brosnan from close range, before Cloe Lacasse had a header of her own fall just wide of the far post.
McCabe came close to an equaliser after her mazy was punctuated with a low left-footed shot, which may well have creeped inside the near post but for a desperate toe from Shelina Zadorsky.
The final 10 minutes of the match became more of a basketball match. Ireland would steam forward, Canada would retrieve the ball and counter before last-ditch recoveries by the Irish defence. Back and forth constantly, but ultimately Ireland were unable to trouble the Canadian goal.
Priestman’s side held on and move temporarily to the top of Group B, whilst Ireland bow out of their debut World Cup.
Bev Priestman – Head Coach, Canada
“We wobbled in the first half. Our bravery wasn’t there. I felt we played a little bit scared so I reminded them that we’re the Olympic champions at half time, and we’ve got to take a step forward and be brave and get after them.
“The character, the quality, and the experience that came about in the second half, that’s the type of performance that we need moving forward.
“It was maybe what that group needed. When we play brave we can be unstoppable, and it took a rocket in the first half and at half time to really make us believe that. When we play with bravery and belief we can play like we did in that second half.
“It was like playing an away game, full of Irish fans in that stadium – it’s basically a rehearsal for what we’re going to go into in the Australia game.
“This Australia game is going to be a big test. We’re not going to roll into that thinking and think it’s going to be easy. Australia are a world class side and I think since we played them last August they’ve got better, so we’ve got to be prepared for that.
“We obviously came up against Sam Kerr the last two times we played them in August and she’s a world class player of course, but I know she’s not the only part [of their game]. They have threats across the front four. They’ve got real pace across their forward line so we’ll be prepared to play against Sam Kerr as we did, but we’ll also be prepared for the other threats that they have.”
Katie McCabe – Captain, Ireland, and Player of the Match
“We’re heartbroken with the result. I’m proud of the team and how we performed and how we gave it everything right until the very end.
“We’ve got great analysts and a lot of aerial quality from set pieces so for myself it was just about putting it in an area where it was going to be difficult for the goalkeeper. The rain and the wind helped with the ball swing into the back of the net. I was delighted to see it go in and get us off to such a good start, but it’s a bittersweet moment because we lost the game.”
“This is our first ever major tournament and I know for a fact given those performances we put in it won’t be our last. I want young girls and young boys in Ireland to dream and look up to us because it could be them one day, sitting here and representing their country.
“I’m so proud and honoured to be able to lead this team. For us it was about creating history getting here but also about leaving a legacy behind and I think we’ve given those girls and boys back in Ireland the chance to dream and I hope we’ve done them proud. I hope we’ve done the nation proud.”