In need of points to keep its World Cup dream alive, Canada has to put it best foot forward Wednesday versus Ireland after the frustration of a tournament-opening scoreless draw with Nigeria.
“We’re looking to put on a dominant performance,” said Canadian fullback Ashley Lawrence.
With only one point in the bank and No. 10 Australia awaiting in its final Group B match in Melbourne, the seventh-ranked Canadians need to get into high gear. With key players missing and others short on playing time after lengthy injury absences, Canada looked slightly out of sync versus No. 40 Nigeria.
That result piled on the pressure for the game against No. 22 Ireland.
“We know we absolutely don’t want to leave this pitch (Wednesday) without those three points,” said Canada coach Bev Priestman. “It’s an unbelievable opportunity for us to take a step forward.”
The Irish won’t make it easy. Australia needed a penalty to edge a stubborn and well-drilled Ireland side 1-0 in its opening match. And the Irish pressed hard as the clock wound down, using their prowess at set pieces to make for a tense finale.
“They’re a team full of heart, spirit and passion,” said Priestman. “What I do know that is when we get tested by teams like that, you often see the best of this team.”
Priestman praised Ireland for what she called its “We’ll do whatever it takes not to concede” mindset.
That fire was shown by Irish centre back Louise Quinn, who put her body on the line against the Matildas. The Birmingham City defender, who has 105 caps, emerged from the game sporting a black eye and wearing a walking boot.
It’s a foot injury “that is not very straightforward,” according to Ireland coach Vera Pauw. “We think that she can play. She’s going to train and we’ll see how far she gets.”
There was better news from Canada on Jessie Fleming, the influential Chelsea midfielder who missed the Nigeria game with a calf issue.
“Jessie fully trained (Monday). We’ve got one more session before (Wednesday) but expect Jessie to be available,” said Priestman.
So does Pauw.
“Fleming will play (Wednesday),” she said.
With 115 caps to her credit, the 25-year-old Fleming offers composure and creativity in addition to being a reliable penalty-taker. Canada could have used her versus Nigeria whose ‘keeper, Paris FC’s Chiamaka Nnadozie, made a world-class save early in the second half to stop Christine Sinclair’s spot kick.
The Canadians already feel the absence of the versatile Janine Beckie, a difference-maker in attack who is back home recovering from knee surgery, and veteran defensive midfielder Desiree Scott, who lost her injury race against time.
Ireland will be just as motivated as Canada. A loss, coupled with Australia avoiding defeat against Nigeria on Thursday, and the Irish are eliminated from advancing in its debut World Cup.
“If you play a game like this against the Olympic champion, you have to stay realistic,” said Pauw. “But it’s clear that If we want to go through this group then we need a result. That’s clear
“If we win, we have it in own hands. If we have a draw, we’re dependent on other results even if we win against Nigeria (in final group game).”