SYDNEY, Australia — Mission accomplished for Bev Priestman after two straight wins in Australia in Canada's first step on the road to the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup.
Despite missing her entire backline, the Canada coach saw her seventh-ranked side concede just one goal with defenders Bianca St-Georges and Jade Rose making the most of playing time. Priestman deployed a new 4-2-3-1 formation with Manchester United forward Adriana Leon accounting for all the goals in 1-0 and 2-1 victories over the 12th-ranked Matildas in Brisbane and Sydney.
The Australians pressed Canada and were quick on the counterattack Tuesday in taking a 1-0 first-half lead before some 27,000 at the newly rebuilt Allianz Stadium. But the Canadians came out with renewed purpose after the break, pulling ahead on Leon goals in the 48th and 64th minute.
"At halftime for me, it was probably just demanding more from the group," Priestman said after the match. "We talked about performances across two games and keeping our standards high and not standing still.
"I got what I expected from Australia in that first half … To be fair, they came out looking much more like what I expected and really put us to work."
Canada won 1-0 when the teams met Saturday at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane.
Leon, a 29-year-old from King City, Ont., has scored in three of Canada's last four games to up her total to 27 in 88 international appearances.
The games in Australia were the first for Canada since July when it qualified for the World Cup by virtue of finishing runner-up to the top-ranked Americans at the CONCACAF W Championship in Mexico.
Canada will learn its path at the 32-country tournament at the draw in Auckland in October.
Allianz Stadium and Suncorp Stadium will both host matches at next year's World Cup, which kicks off in July in 10 stadiums in nine host cities across Australia and New Zealand.
The trip to Australia was chosen so the Olympic champion Canadians could get a taste of what awaits them.
"Everything we've experienced, it only makes you more and more excited as a coach, as a player, to be part of because you know they're going to put on a fantastic show at the World Cup," said Priestman.
"But then you talk about the learnings — jet lag, everything, hotels, stadiums, pitches — it was exactly why we came here," she added. "I think it's really fitting to start the journey and experience these sorts of moments. It really has got the group, myself, excited about what's to come."
Australia, which will co-host next year's World Cup with New Zealand, had its chances in the first game but could not beat goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan. Australia coach Tony Gustavssonlamented the missed opportunities, saying later his team could have scored three goals on another night.
Mary Fowler opened the scoring for the Matildas, who looked a more combative side than the one beaten 1-0 Saturday by an 11th-minute Leon goal. But they had no answers as Canada rallied in the second half.
Australia converted its first chance in the third minute Tuesday after Fowler intercepted a poor Sheridan clearance. Cortnee Vine then found star striker Sam Kerr, who attracted several defenders in the Canadian penalty box before cutting the ball back to an open Fowler. The 19-year-old Manchester City forward slotted a low shot past Sheridan for her eighth goal in 25 international appearances.
Vine did her part after the pass, continuing her run towards goal and drawing another defender that opened up space for Fowler.
Canada pulled even early in the second half when Leon poked in Christine Sinclair's cross. The Canada captain's first attempt to send the ball in front of goal hit a defender and bounced back to Sinclair, who found Leon with her second try.
A Nichelle Prince goal in the 53rd minute was ruled offside.
Rose set up Canada's second goal, making a surging run before splitting the defence with a pass that put Leon behind four defenders. Leon shot from the edge of the penalty box, beating goalkeeper Lydia Williams to the ball.
The 19-year-old Rose, who captained Canada at the recent FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup in Costa Rica, collected her first senior assist in just her third appearance at this level.
Quinn, who goes by one name, made a game-saving tackle in the 90th minute as Australia pressed for an equalizer. Canada then had to survive almost seven minutes of stoppage time.
Tuesday's game was the first soccer match at the 42,500-capacity, $736-million Allianz Stadium, following the National Rugby League contest between the Sydney Roosters and South Sydney Rabbitohs and the rugby union test between Australia and South Africa.
The Canadians brought a depleted roster Down Under, with their entire starting backline absent thanks to injuries to defenders Kadeisha Buchanan, Vanessa Gilles, Jayde Riviere and Allysha Chapman, with Ashley Lawrence unavailable for personal reasons. Forward Deanne Rose is also injured.
Priestman made three changes to her starting 11 with Desiree Scott, Marie Levasseur and Jade Rose coming in for Julia Grosso, Janine Beckie and Sura Yekka.
Priestman's starting 11 Tuesday featured just four starters from the 2021 Olympic final in Tokyo: Sinclair, Scott, Prince and Jessie Fleming.
Priestman brought on Grosso and Beckie, replacing Scott and Levasseur, to start the second half.
Sinclair, the world's all-time leading goal-scorer with 190, moved past American Carli Lloyd into sole possession of second place on the world's all-time appearance list with 317 caps. Former American international Kristine Lilly leads with 354 appearances.
Canada's 11 starters Tuesday combined for 967 caps, with Sinclair, Scott and Fleming combining for 607 of those.
Australia was also missing players.
"Hopefully … if all the players are available and we're in form, maybe we can see a complete performance for 90 minutes," said Gustavsson.
Canada improved to 8-2-3 in 2022, losing 1-0 to No. 8 Spain at the Arnold Clark Cup in February and 1-0 to the U.S. at the CONCACAF W Championship. The Canadians also took an 8-7-3 lead in the all-time series with Australia.
Priestman said prior to the game that she hopes the Canadian women will play again in October and November, likely in friendlies abroad.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 6, 2022
The Canadian Press