Australia kept their Women’s World Cup dream alive as they advanced to the last-16 stage by thrashing Canada.

Hayley Raso scored twice, Mary Fowler was also on target and Steph Catley netted a late penalty as the co-hosts impressed in a game they had to win to avoid elimination.

The Matildas finished top of Group B – and did so without Sam Kerr, an unused sub despite declaring herself fit.

Canada suffered their first Women’s World Cup group-stage exit since 2011.

Nigeria’s draw with the Republic of Ireland means Australia will go forward to face the runners-up in Group D – who could still be England – at Stadium Australia in Sydney on 7 August.

Australia excel after Kerr sideshow

For Australia, this game had involved of the most fraught build-ups possible at a World Cup. The spectre of a humiliating early exit, combined with the dominating question marks about Kerr’s fitness, did not make for ideal preparation.

Captain Kerr – having missed the first two games with a calf injury – was named on the bench but did not take part in the warm-ups, instead chewing gum and wearing her big coat as she watched the passing drills.

Ultimately, it was the 11 women on the field for Australia who would decide whether they could survive this test – and they rose to the challenge.

Roared on by a noisy near-capacity crowd at the Melbourne Rectangular Stadium, from the start they were far quicker and more dynamic than Canada.

Those watching from the stands became noisier when Catley’s low cross found Raso in the area and she controlled before firing into the bottom corner.

Fowler appeared to have doubled the lead, firing into the roof of the net after a goalmouth scramble; however, Ellie Carpenter was judged offside after a lengthy video assistant referee review.

It left the crowd unsure how to react when Raso turned home following another scramble shortly before half-time. It was only when Canada restarted the game that they celebrated.

The Australian knees-up truly began shortly before the hour when Caitlin Foord cut back for Fowler to convert off the post from close range, and it was in full swing when Catley stroked home from the spot after Jessie Fleming fouled Katrina Gorry.

Australia now have the chance to give those fans more to celebrate at this World Cup. With or without Kerr, the hosts are staying at their own party.

Kesh Awefada

Kesh Awefada

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