While Olympic champion Canada celebrates captain Christine Sinclair’s international swansong with a Summer Games berth already secured, Australia is still focused on getting to Paris.
The 11th-ranked Matildas, who face No. 10 Canada in friendlies Friday in Langford, and Tuesday in Vancouver, have one more obstacle in their way having dispatched No. 63 Iran 2-0, the 44th-ranked Philippines 8-0 and No. 38 Chinese Taipei 3-0 in Olympic qualifying play in October and November.
Australia next plays No. 50 Uzbekistan in the final round of Asian qualifying, a two-legged series with the winner joining the 12-team field in Paris. Unranked North Korea plays No. 8 Japan in the other third-round matchup.
The Canada outings are the last for the Matildas before that final Olympic qualifying step.
“We want to finish on a high. It’s really important we do so,” said Australian veteran midfielder Emily van Egmond.
“So for us, it’s getting as much as we can out of this (international) window and these two games,” she added. “And obviously Canada, being the quality opposition that they are, are going to be extremely good for us.”
The two teams authored different stories at this summer’s World Cup, which ended prematurely for Canada in a humbling 4-0 loss to the Matildas on July 31 in Melbourne. Co-host Australia went on to finish fourth, with an enthusiastic nation cheering it on.
Van Egmond says the Canada tour is a chance for the Australian women to hone their game, adding she doesn’t believe the Canadians will be distracted by Sinclair’s farewell tour with fellow veterans Erin McLeod and Sophie Schmidt also being honoured at the Vancouver match.
“Any international friendly is a an opportunity for the team to get together and to build some sort of momentum towards these major tournaments that we have coming up. I mean the Olympics are just right around the corner,” she said. “So I have no doubt in my mind that it’s going to be a competitive game.
“Of course, obviously the retirement of the three players will play a special part and I’m sure Canada is going to want to go out on top for those girls. But ultimately we’re here as well and we have a job to do. For us, it’s all about that prep now for the Olympics.”
But van Egmond, who plays in front of Canadian goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan at the San Diego Wave, was generous in her praise of Sinclair.
“I’ve had the privilege of playing against her quite a bit in the NWSL. Her career speaks for itself,” said van Egmond. “She’s been an unbelievable player.
“I don’t know her personally but from what I’ve heard she’s an even more unbelievable person. So someone like this, who’s had longevity in the game and the respect that she has, I’m happy that she gets to go out the way that she wants to and no better way for her obviously (than) on her home soil.”
Sinclair, 40, is the world’s all-time leading goal-scorer with 190 goals to her credit
The Matildas, who have been training in Vancouver this week, are without injured captain and star forward Sam Kerr, goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold, defender Charlotte Grant and forward Holly McNamara.
The Canadians have an 8-8-3 career record against Australia, winning in Brisbane and Sydney in September 2022 before the World Cup. Five of the Canadian losses to Australia came before 2000.
The World Cup defeat to Australia consigned Canada (1-1-1 at the tournament) to third place in Group B and a trip home. Australia won the group and went on to defeat No. 12 Denmark and No. 5 France before falling 3-1 to No. 4 England in the semifinal and 2-0 to No. 1 Sweden in the third-place game.
Australia has won three straight since.
The Canadian women are 3-1-0 since the World Cup. Canada dispatched No. 37 Jamaica 4-1 on aggregate in a two-game Olympic qualifying playoff in September, then split a friendly series in October with No. 9 Brazil, losing 1-0 in Montreal and winning 2-0 in Halifax.