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HomeSportsSoccerCanada deflecting the pressure, while Australia feeling the home heat at Women's...

Canada deflecting the pressure, while Australia feeling the home heat at Women’s World Cup

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“Pressure is everything you make it,” Canadian women’s soccer head coach Bev Priestman said Sunday after the team’s training session before its final group-stage game Monday (6 a.m. ET) against co-host Australia at the Women’s World Cup.

The stakes are high for both teams, as either could advance to the Round of 16 or be eliminated depending on that game’s result and the other Group B match against Nigeria and Ireland.

There have been challenges off the field with the now-settled labour negotiations with Canada Soccer, but this team needs to push forward in a way that their mental strength is utilized as much as their physical capacity. Melbourne Rectangular Stadium is sold out and I expect there will be yellow and green, the colours of the home-team Matildas, throughout the stadium with a just sprinkling of red and white for the visitors.

But is the pressure to perform more of a hindrance? Canada can advance with a win or a draw, but Australia is in a win-or-stay-home predicament. If they do not come through with a win, they are out of the tournament. Being eliminated from the group stage is not something any host country wants on their resume.

Australian coach Tony Gustavsson put it matter-of-factly: “It is a failure if we don’t go out of the group.”

WATCH | Soccer North previews Canada vs. Australia:

Australia vs Canada World Cup preview | Soccer North

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.

Watch Soccer North Live Monday July 31 at 8:30 a.m. ET on cbcsports.ca and the CBC Sports YouTube Channel for post-match analysis of Canada vs. Ireland with Andi Petrillo and Diana Matheson.


At the biggest Women’s World Cup in history, that pressure and that desire to go on can bring either stress or success. 

The Australian press has been dominated with stories about Gustavsson’s failures to add substitutions in their 3-2 loss to Nigeria, and about injured Australian star Sam Kerr’s availability and the status her  calf muscles. Gustavsson acknowledges the pressure from sports media has been intense.

I asked him Sunday whether he has read any of the colourful commentary and at first he said: “I don’t know how much there has been, because I haven’t kept track of it.” He went on to explain that his own side was focused on the pitch.

But as the session went on, Gustavsson replied to many of the Australian media with specific knowledge or a quick nod to what they had written. When one Australian reporter asked him a question about tactics, Gustavsson replied, “I’m surprised you’re asking this question.”

He clearly sees and knows what’s being written and shared in the press.

WATCH: Shelina Zadorsky says Team Canada is filled with ‘calm confidence’:

Shelina Zadorsky says Team Canada is filled with ‘calm confidence’

Centre back Shelina Zadorsky is confident in her team’s ability to win a tough match against Australia to ensure the team moves on at the Women’s World Cup.

But the media screaming that this match is the most pivotal and could be the end of hopes and dreams of so many Australians can absolutely be distracting. The players are active on social media and can read and see what’s being said.

Canada is not without it’s own pressure, but midfielder Jessie Fleming said her team is ready.

“There is pressure on both sides,” Fleming said Sunday. “But I think having experience with a home World Cup (Canada hosted in 2015), I know how much pressure those guys are under in their dressing room just wanting to perform for their home country, in their home country and [in front of home] fans.”

(Fleming certainly wasn’t showing the pressure, offering up a joke to media:  “Why shouldn’t you play poker in the jungle? There’s too many cheetahs.”)

Fleming added it was nice to have a visit from the newly appointed minister of sport at the practice. Carla Qualtrough was presented with a Canada kit, and later told media she would be cheering wildly in the stands.

Being focused and centred is not always easy for athletes. Sometimes different factors affect their roles and the way they play. For example, we know the team wanted a compensation agreement so they could focus on the soccer. And the leadership team involved in those negotiations includes active players on this roster, but the injured Janine Beckie managed most of the negotiations so her teammates can do what they actually have to: play and compete. 

WATCH: Canada’s Cloé Lacasse confident in Canada’s gritty approach against Australia:

Canada’s Cloé Lacasse confident in Canada’s gritty approach against Australia

Forward Cloé Lacasse says the team is ready ahead of their big match against the Matildas of Australia at the Women’s World Cup.

Despite being peppered with questions about the recent statement, the players are absolutely looking to the match and not discussing the interim agreement. Any query is politely declined. 

Canada has matured in a way that they are managing the pressure of that situation like gladiators. Being a gladiator was a metaphor that veteran Sophie Schmidt used to describe playing at an arena full of boisterous fans.

Schmidt offered that same type of calmness and presented her expertise on Sunday. She was asked about earlier this year when she tearfully admitted she wanted to quit the national team after the disaster of SheBelieves Cup. At the time, Schmidt said she was “talked off a ledge” by teammate Christine Sinclair and Priestman.

“I would have greatly regretted it,” she said Sunday of missing this World Cup.

I was on that Zoom call with the players in February. I saw Schmidt then exhausted and frustrated, and see her now, steady and ready to fight the Matildas in what will be an important battle. 

Schmidt said that Australia is “extremely physical” but Canada is more than ready to meet their opponents. 

A woman soccer player speaks at a podium.
The status of Australian star Sam Kerr is still unknown ahead of Monday’s game against Canada. (Associated Press)

The team has shown its resilience with the way they have navigated the crowds and the tensions off the pitch. Those experiences will come in handy on Monday.

Perhaps this match will come down to experience and being able to stay out of frantic play. As far as players go, Canada’s entire roster is game ready and fit to play according to Priestman.

“I think we have to bring us,” Priestman said, answering the questions with her usual smile. “If we worry about us, if we turn up — we turned up at the last game [a 2-1 win over Ireland]— we are going to get three points. We have to be brave, bring what we bring, and bring it well.”

She noted that this was not the most stressful match of her tenure thus far, that being the gold-medal game at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, a shootout win over Sweden.

Meanwhile, Australia is unsure if their star Kerr will get any minutes despite, declaring that she is available. Emily van Egmond said that Australia does not shy away from moments like this.

As Canada readies itself for this important match, the Australians are also preparing to meet them in what could be one of the most electric either team has seen in awhile.

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