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HomeSportsSoccerAdriana Leon plays the hero as Canada completes comeback to defeat Ireland...

Adriana Leon plays the hero as Canada completes comeback to defeat Ireland at Women’s World Cup

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It’s early days at the FIFA Women’s World Cup, but Canada showed its mettle Wednesday in a 2-1 comeback win over Ireland that signalled the Olympic champion may have plenty more to say at the tournament.

But it took a case of what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger to get there.

Canada survived an early Katie McCabe wonder goal, climbing out of a deep hole to dispatch a feisty Irish side and boost its hopes of advancing to the knockout rounds.

“I said to (the players) at the end it could be the making of us,” Canada coach Bev Priestman said of the comeback. “We wobbled in the first half. Our bravery wasn’t there. I felt we played a little bit scared.

“I reminded them at halftime that we’re Olympic champions and that we’ve got to take a step forward and be brave and get after this. It’s not going to be easy. I think the quality, the experience that came about in the second half, that’s the type of performance that we need moving forward. These moments build character and experience that you can build upon now.”

It was a wild night at Perth Rectangular Stadium, with monsoon-like weather at times and a pro-Irish crowd that sounded like it had just poured out of Dublin’s Temple Bar district on a Saturday night.

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The Canadians seemed dead and buried for most of the first half after McCabe scored directly off a corner in the fourth minute. The Irish had their tails up and Canada looked shell-shocked.

But a Megan Connolly own goal in first-half stoppage time and 53rd-minute strike by Adriana Leon turned the tables.

Tied 1-1 after a first half dominated by Ireland, Priestman sent in the cavalry to start the second half. She brought on Christine Sinclair, Sophie Schmidt and Shelina Zadorsky with Sinclair becoming the tip of the Canadian spear, leading the attack.

The trio arrived with a combined 635 caps under their belts.

Zadorsky was introduced because starting centre back Kadeisha Buchanan had been battling illness. Sinclair and Schmidt were brought on for their quality and experience.

Priestman’s message to the veterans in announcing her squad selection was simple. “You can be the reason that we win.”

The changes produced an immediate effect with Sinclair finding Jordyn Huitema at the edge of the box. Huitema swivelled and hammered a shot on target, forcing a superb diving save from goalkeeper Courtney Brosnan.

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Canada will play Australia in the Group B finale to see who will finish top of the table. Australia goes into the match being heavy favourites because of the home-soil advantage.

Schmidt then unlocked the Irish defence with a perfect pass to Leon in the Irish penalty box. Leon sliced between two defenders and poked the ball past Brosnan.

The Canadians looked like a different team in an entertaining, wide-open second half. Ireland pressed in the final minutes, but Canada held firm.

Canada outshot the Irish 16-13 (7-5 in shots on target).

With four points from two games, seventh-ranked Canada now faces No. 10 Australia in its final group game Monday in Melbourne with top spot in Group B likely at stake. The top two in the group move on and Canada only needs a draw to reach the round of 16.

The Matildas can assure themselves of advancing Thursday with a win over No. 40 Nigeria in Brisbane.

Canada returns to Melbourne with a question-mark over a limping Sinclair, who was to be checked out after the game.

Women soccer players try to stop the ball from going into the net.
A corner kick by Ireland’s Katie McCabe (not pictured) flies over the head of Canadian defenders and into the net. (AFP via Getty Images)

Pro-Irish crowd

No. 22 Ireland can celebrate its first-ever goal at the tournament but will rue the sudden change of fortune in the game. Its dream of making the knockout round is over after a second straight loss.

Ireland coach Vera Pauw was torn between disappointment in the loss and pride in her players.

The former Dutch international who previously coached her native Netherlands, Russia, Scotland and South Africa, pointed to the experience that Canada was able to bring on.

“That experience is what we lack. This is our first World Cup, and you can see that they have many behind them,” she said. “The experience shows in that they just wait for those few moments, and they know how to react in situations.”

It started as a damp, windy evening and got worse. The rain came down in sheets periodically throughout the match as if someone was turning a giant tap in the sky on and off.

The Irish fans made their voice heard during the pre-game team lineup announcements. Perth Rectangular Stadium had clearly gone green for the night.

“It felt like we were home in Dublin,” said McCabe, the Irish captain.

McCabe scores quickest goal of tournament

And it took just four minutes for the Irish to give the fans something to really cheer about.

After an Irish counterattack led to a corner with Canadian ‘keeper Kailen Sheridan having to bundle the ball out of bounds, McCabe produced a moment of magic. The Arsenal midfielder curled the ensuing corner high into the air and into the far corner of the goal, with Sheridan frantically trying to back up to get a hand to the ball.

It was the earliest goal of the tournament and it hit Canada hard. The Canadians seemed out of kilter, with passes going long.

Ireland looked faster and more determined, winning 50-50 battles in just its second World Cup outing.

But the Canadians were thrown a lifeline deep into first-half stoppage time when Connolly’s attempt to clear a Julia Grosso cross went directly into the Irish goal. It was about the only thing that went right for the Canadians in the half.

The two goals were a welcome sight to a Canadian side that had only managed three in its five previous outings of 2023.

Evelyne Viens and Jessie Fleming came into the starting lineup with Sinclair, the world’s all-time leading scorer with 190 goals, and Nichelle Prince shifting to the bench. Fleming, who missed the Nigeria game with a calf injury, captained the side.

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