MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Hayley Raso scored a first half brace and Mary Fowler struck after the break as Australia crushed Canada 4-0 on Monday to storm into the last 16 of the Women’s World Cup and send the Olympic champions spinning out of the tournament.
In front of a febrile crowd at Melbourne Rectangular Stadium, Raso struck in the ninth minute with a low, right-boot and doubled down in the 39th from a goalmouth scramble as unused captain Sam Kerr cheered by the touchline.
Fowler made sure of the win with a deft touch in the 58th minute that pinged in off the right post, before Steph Catley slotted a penalty in stoppage time as a relieved nation celebrated the co-hosts’ advance.
Canada bowed out at the group stage for the first time since 2011 and with some regret after having needed only a draw to advance.
There was no need for Kerr to be Australia’s saviour and the striker can rest her injured calf for a week before the co-hosts’ next clash in the last 16, most likely against Denmark.
Australia topped Group B on six points, one ahead of Nigeria, who also advanced after a 0-0 draw against Ireland.
Canada’s talismanic captain Christine Sinclair started on the pitch but bowed out of her sixth and final World Cup in disappointment at halftime when coach Bev Priestman triggered a raft of substitutes.
With their tournament on a knife-edge after the 3-2 shock by Nigeria, Australia played with courage and were quickly rewarded when a Steph Catley cross found Raso in the box.
She drilled a low shot inside the far post to put Australia in front. Although an offside flag went up, the goal was confirmed by VAR, sending the crowd into raptures.
They almost made it 2-0 minutes later, but Raso’s shot was well saved by goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan.
Home fans were roaring again in the 34th minute as Fowler charged in to thump the ball in from close range, with Raso providing the cross.
VAR again intervened, this time cancelling the goal for offside, triggering a huge round of booing.
It scarcely mattered as five minutes later, Raso was celebrating her second strike after Sheridan failed to clear the ball from a set-piece.
Priestman made changes at halftime, with the retiring Sophie Schmidt coming on and blazing over the bar in the 56th minute.
But another Australian raid minutes later ended with Fowler slotting in a cross from Caitlin Foord to blow out the lead.
Worse was to come for Canada as Jessie Fleming clattered into Katrina Gorry just inside the area to concede a penalty, allowing Catley to blast into the net for the coup de grace.
(Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Christian Radnedge)