Kerr returns for Australia ahead of must-win match against Canada
AUCKLAND, New Zealand (AP) — Sam Kerr is set to return for Australia at the Women's World Cup just in time for a must-win match against Canada. If the Matildas lose, the tournament co-hosts will be eliminated.
That was barely even a consideration ahead of this World Cup, with Kerr expected to take Australia deep into the tournament for perhaps a shot at the championship. But the star striker missed the home team's first two matches with a calf injury.
She announced ahead of Monday's match in Melbourne that she will play against Canada, the Olympic gold medalists in Tokyo. A win will put Australia into the knockout round for the fifth consecutive time. A shocking 3-2 loss to Nigeria dropped Australia to third in Group B, behind Nigeria and Canada, and a loss in the last group game would be devastating for the co-hosts.
Kerr is Australia’s all-time leading scorer with 63 goals in 121 games.
“I’m definitely going to be available," Kerr said, “but how we decide to use that is not to be given to the opposition.”
Australia's head coach Tony Gustavsson said during the team's pre-match news conference that the coaching staff and the medical team would meet with Kerr “and discuss what the possibilities are to play tomorrow.”
He said they'd do more tests on Monday more “to see what it looks like.”
The Australians had lost only one of their previous 11 matches before the Nigeria game, but the Matildas have been hampered by injuries beyond Kerr; Manchester City forward Mary Fowler missed the Nigeria match with a concussion sustained at practice.
Canada opened the tournament with a scoreless draw against Nigeria, followed by a 2-1 win over Ireland.
Japan and Spain square off in the Group C decider that pits two tournament heavyweights against each other in a Monday match b etween serious tournament contenders.
Both teams are undefeated headed into the match in Wellington, where the top spot in the group will be decided. Spain has rolled to a 3-0 win over Costa Rica and a 5-0 rout of Zambia, while Japan has logged a 5-0 win over Zambia and a 2-0 win over Costa Rica.
Spain has a one-goal edge in the tiebreaker headed into the showdown.
“They’re very good, and I respect the team very much," Japanese defender Moeki Minami said of Spain. “In Europe, they play in a similar style to as a Japan team. Therefore, having a similar type of performance, I think we will have a very interesting match.”
Japan, winners of the 2011 World Cup, has won five of its six previous games. The last three wins have been by a combined 12-0 score.
Spain has recorded eight consecutive wins since it dropped a 3-2 match to Australia in February. Spain has scored 27 goals in that span with seven clean sheets.
Ireland’s first ever Women’s World Cup tournament will end after Monday’s match against Nigeria in Brisbane, Australia. The Nigerians, however, still have a shot at advancing out of Group B and into the knockout round.
Ireland was steady but not strong enough in a 1-0 loss to co-host Australia in the tournament opener, and then the Girls in Green scored first on Canada before falling 2-1 to lose their fifth game in six matches and slip out of contention.
“I think we’ve shown that we deserve to be here with the two performances that we’ve put in,” said Megan Connolly, who had an own goal in the loss to Canada. “As a team and as a nation, we wanted to come out with more, but I know we’ve made everyone proud and our goal doesn’t change: we want to come away with a win.”
Nigeria has four points from its first two group games — a scoreless draw against Canada followed by a shocking 3-2 upset over Australia. Nigeria can advance by avoiding defeat to Ireland; a loss would leave Nigeria dependent on the result of the match between Canada and Australia.
“In a lot of ways, it could be our hardest match,” Nigeria coach Randy Waldrum said. “I don’t think we’re expecting them to just lay down because they’re going home already. I expect us to get the best from them.”
Nigeria star striker Asisat Oshoala is available after a thigh injury kept her out of the starting 11 in the win over Australia, when she came off the bench and scored Nigeria's winning goal. Waldrum would not specify how Oshoala will be used against Ireland.
“I think she’s doing much better. I think we did the right thing by managing her minutes," he said. "We still may have to do a little bit of that in this match with Ireland. We will start to make some decisions on whether that’s at the front end or the back end of it.”
Costa Rica and Zambia would both like to get on the scoring board — and earn a Women's World Cup victory — before departing the tournament following the Group C finale Monday in Hamilton, New Zealand.
The teams were eliminated with a match to spare. Zambia had a pair of blowout losses to Japan and Spain, while Costa Rica lost to the same two teams but my smaller margins. Zambia has given up 10 goals in two games, while Costa Rica has conceded five.
Neither team has scored in the tournament.
Costa Rica also appeared in the 2015 tournament, where it picked up two points, and has a shot at its first victory against Zambia. Costa Rica is ranked 41 places higher than Zambia in the FIFA world rankings.
“The desire is there, we have given everything," Costa Rica coach Amelia Valverde said. “The team is clear in that we will try and get that victory. We are a better version of what we were.”
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