Australia’s Sam Kerr Expects to Play Against Canada
Sweden certainly loves it set pieces. And Amanda Ilestedt loves finishing them.
She had two more goals on Saturday after scoring the winning goal in her team’s opening game against South Africa, delivering a rout in a critical moment: Sweden clinched first place in its group.
Of course, that means a game against the second place finisher of a group that includes two of the toughest teams in the tournament, the United States and the Netherlands.
Italy fell apart after spending 20 minutes as the more aggressive and controlling team on the pitch, but without any goals to show for it. Sweden weathered that, then outclassed Italy repeatedly in front of the goal, with three goals on corner kicks and another from a crowded box.
France vs. Brazil
France is under pressure. After months of intrasquad turmoil, a coaching change only months before the tournament and a scoreless draw with Jamaica to open the World Cup, the French need to win or (at worst) to not lose against Brazil. If the French fall, their path to the knockouts get more complicated, and the finger-pointing will begin.
Brazil, on the other hand, could be setting itself up to get on a roll. It opened play with a 4-0 victory over Panama, and a win over France would put the Brazilians atop Group F with some maneuverability in their final game against Jamaica.
Panama vs. Jamaica
This game is a rematch of one in the 2018 Concacaf Women’s Championship, where Jamaica beat Panama on penalties in the bronze medal match. Jamaica’s win sent it to the 2019 World Cup, and sent Panama into a playoff for a World Cup place that it eventually lost. That delayed Panama’s World Cup debut until this year, when the field was expanded to 32 teams.
Unfortunately for the Panamanians, Jamaica looks to be in top form, and it will only be emboldened by its showing in a draw against France in its opener. Jamaica has its own concerns, though: Its top player, Khadija Shaw, the striker more familiar to fans as Bunny, received a red card in the France game and is suspended for the Panama match.
The most talked-about calf muscle in Australia belongs to Sam Kerr, the star striker and leading scorer for the country’s women’s team, and on Saturday Kerr gave her country’s fans reason to believe that it was healthy enough to allow her to return for Australia’s final group game against Canada on Monday.
Kerr, who had carried her nation’s hopes on her shoulders entering the tournament, was stunningly ruled out of Australia’s first two games only an hour before its World Cup opener last week. On Saturday, she revealed that she had returned to training ahead of the Canada game, telling reporters in Brisbane that she’s “definitely going to be available” for the match in Melbourne.
“The plan has always been the same — miss the first two games and then reassess,” Kerr said. “I’m feeling good. I was out on the pitch today.”
Her absence has been one of the biggest stories of the tournament. While Australia scrapped its way to a 1-0 victory against Ireland in the opener, she could only watch helplessly from the bench days later as her replacements failed to take advantage of their chances in a shocking 3-2 loss to Nigeria.
That has made the Canada game a must-win situation, and one of the most consequential games in the Australian team’s history: Lose it, and Australia most likely will be eliminated from the tournament before the knockout stage, the type of humbling that organizers had been dreading and one that appeared unthinkable only a week ago.
Yet despite Kerr’s positive update, the extent of her availability for the Canada game remains unclear. Coach Tony Gustavsson said after the loss to Nigeria that Kerr’s availability might not be known until hours before kickoff against Canada. “It might even be where we need to test her on game day,” he had said then.
On Saturday, Kerr said she felt good and had been encouraged by her return to training, but she also reiterated Gustavsson’s earlier position.
“It’s going to go down to the wire,” she said. “I’m definitely going to be available, but how we decide to use that is not to be given to the opposition.”
Such is Kerr’s importance to the team that the Australian news media has kept up a running commentary about her fate through the tournament; the intense focus has, on at least one occasion, seen team communications officials plead with reporters to ask about other topics.
Canada’s World Cup team this week set aside a bitter and long-running feud with its national federation by agreeing to an interim pay deal that will ensure the players receive prize money from the Women’s World Cup.
The deal, reached on Monday, was announced by the team on social media on Friday. It will ensure that the team will receive a share of the increased prize money pool from the federation, Canada Soccer. But the players left little doubt that they had agreed to the deal grudgingly.
“We have been forced to choose between receiving a fair share of the rewards from our teams’ successes at the World Cup and our commitment to equal pay and equal treatment with our men’s national team,” the team said in its statement. “These are choices we should not have to make.”
“We are deeply disappointed to find ourselves without a more complete agreement at this crucial stage in our calendar,” the team added, saying it had done its best to reach a deal “that ensures, at minimum, equal pay with our men’s national team, within the constraints created by Canada Soccer’s financial situation.”
For more than a year, Canada’s women’s national team players have demanded that their federation provide them with equal pay, equal treatment and equal working conditions compared to Canada’s men’s team. In February, with the players exhausted by months of failed negotiations and outraged by recent budget cuts, the simmering feud boiled over. The team briefly went on strike before a game against the United States, and then took the field for a match wearing shirts emblazoned with the words “Enough is enough.”
In the months since, the Canadian soccer federation revealed that it lost more than $6 million in 2022, a year in which its men’s team played in the World Cup. Its interim leader, Jason De Vos, said the organization was exploring options that included filing for bankruptcy.
Those budget issues dogged the preparations of the women’s team, the reigning Olympic champion, for a Women’s World Cup in which it had expected to contend for the title. Canada did not hold a sendoff match before leaving for Australia, where it has managed only a tie and a narrow win in its first two games.
Even now, the team is not assured of a place in the knockout stages of the competition. And while the new deal will at least guarantee the players will get a cut of the prize money, the team said its larger fight would continue.
“This isn’t over,” the players declared. “We and the men’s national team remain committed to finding a long-term solution that provides for fair and equal treatment for our current national teams and investments in the future of Canadian soccer.”
The players said they would not discuss the matter again until after the World Cup. “For now,” they wrote, “our team just wants to focus on soccer.”
For one night only, the combined interest of the World Cup co-hosts Australia and New Zealand coalesced on Australia’s most hallowed sporting arena, the Melbourne Cricket Ground. But the game on Saturday night was not soccer. It was rugby being played at the same time.
In front of a crowd of more than 75,000, the men’s rugby teams of Australia and New Zealand renewed their rivalry by competing in the latest installment of two-game, home-and-home series that dates back more than 90 years.
That the game took place during the Women’s World Cup, simultaneously with matches in other cities and two days before Australia’s must-win match against Canada, highlighted the competition that women’s soccer faces to attract interest and audience in the two sports-mad countries hosting soccer’s biggest showcase.
The Melbourne Cricket Ground alone predicted more than 220,000 people would pass through its doors across three days, according to data provided by the stadium’s owner, as part of a run of games that started with its hosting what is considered to be the biggest rivalry in Australian domestic sports, a meeting between the Australian rules football teams Carlton and Collingwood on Friday night, and that will end on Sunday with a third spectacle, another Australian Football League game.
Soccer, though increasing in popularity, languishes well behind sports played with an oval ball, a legacy of the past and migration patterns, according to one expert on Australian sports.
“Given that it was colonized by the British you’d have thought soccer would be the dominant code, but it’s not,” David Rowe, a professor for culture and society at Western Sydney University.
On Saturday, Melbourne’s airport was bustling with fans arriving from other parts of Australia to witness the first installment of the yearly rivalry in which New Zealand’s team, known as the All Blacks, arrived as the overwhelming favorite to retain the title it has held for two decades. The return game across the Tasman Sea takes place next week in Dunedin, on New Zealand’s South Island, inside a stadium that has struggled to attract fans to World Cup soccer matches.
Decisions over the World Cup’s television coverage in Australia have been questioned already, and they are likely to face scrutiny again on Saturday night as one of the tournament’s most anticipated group games, an encounter between France and Brazil, kicked off 15 minutes after the start of the clash between the All Blacks and the Wallabies.
Only one of those games was being broadcast on a free-to-air network in Australia. The answer will not please soccer fans.
— Tariq Panja Reporting from Melbourne, Australia