Leon's highlight-reel goal lifts Canada past Australia in women's soccer friendly

·5 min read

BRISBANE, Australia — A spectacular first-half strike by Adriana Leon gave Canada a 1-0 win over Australia in a women's soccer friendly Saturday at Suncorp Stadium.

The seventh-ranked Canadians meet the 12th-ranked Matildas in a rematch Tuesday at the newly rebuilt Allianz Stadium in Sydney.

Both venues will host matches at next year's World Cup, which is being played in 10 stadiums in nine host cities across Australia and New Zealand. Canada will learn its path at the 32-country tournament at the draw in Auckland in October.

Australia had more chances in the first half but went into the break trailing 1-0. Canada turned up the pressure in an entertaining second half before a crowd of 25,016.

The Matildas pressed for a late equalizer with Canadian 'keeper Kailen Sheridan pushing a header from Sam Kerr off an Australian corner in stoppage time to preserve the win.

Kerr, the Matildas' star striker, had a slew of scoring opportunities but could not beat Sheridan.

Leon, who plays her club football for Manchester United, put Canada ahead in the 11th minute off a Jessie Fleming free kick. The ball was cleared by an Australian defender but only as far as Bianca St-Georges who sent it over to Jordyn Huitema. The OL Reign striker teed the ball up for Leon, who hammered a right-footed shot from the edge of the penalty box past the outstretched hands of diving goalkeeper Lydia Williams for her 25th goal for Canada.

Saturday's game was the first for Canada since July when it qualified for the World Cup by virtue of finishing runner-up to the top-ranked Americans at the CONCACAF W Championship in Mexico.

Both teams were dealing with depleted rosters Saturday.

With Kadeisha Buchanan, Allysha Chapman, Vanessa Gilles, Jayde Riviere and Deanne Rose injured and Ashley Lawrence unavailable for personal reasons, the Canadians were missing their entire starting backline.

Bev Priestman's starting 11 featured just four starters from the 2021 Olympic final in Tokyo: captain Christine Sinclair, Fleming, Janine Beckie and Nichelle Prince.

Veteran Shelina Zadorsky anchored the backline, earning her 83rd cap alongside fellow centre back Sura Yekka. Beckie moved back to fullback with St-Georges on the other side.

The 24-year-old St-Georges, who plays for the NWSL Chicago Red Stars, impressed in just her fifth senior appearance.

Fleming and Julia Grosso were deployed in midfield ahead of the back four, with Leon, Sinclair and Prince playing behind Huitema.

Sinclair, the world's all-time leading goal-scorer with 190, earned her 317th cap for Canada.

Kerr, who plays alongside Fleming at England's Chelsea, captained Australia which was also missing players.

The Matildas were beaten 1-0 by Sweden in the Olympic semifinal and finished fourth in Tokyo after losing 1-0 to the U.S. in the bronze-medal game. Canada won gold, dispatching the Swedes 3-2 in a penalty shootout after the game finished knotted at 1-1.

Kerr had the first chance of the game in the fourth minute, rising above Zadorsky to flick a backwards header that Sheridan acrobatically managed to palm away.

Sheridan denied Kerr again in the 27th after a through ball put her behind the defence. Sheridan came out and got a leg to the ball with a subsequent Emily Gielnik shot off the rebound flying over the crossbar.

Kerr was foiled again in the 37th minute as Sheridan got a hand to her low angled shot, with Beckie clearing the ball to safety.

Veterans Desiree Scott and Sophie Schmidt, who have 396 caps between them, came in the game for Canada in the 61st minute.

An unmarked Leon had a chance to add to the score in the 67th minute but Prince's cross flew just over her head. And a minute later, Williams stopped a hard shot from Sinclair off another Prince feed. The Canada captain exited soon after as Cloe Lacasse and Gabby Carle came on.

Australia was unable to handle the pace of Prince as the game wore on.

Clarissa Larisey and 18-year-old Simi Awujo came on in the 75th minute for their first Canadian senior caps. Larisey, who plays for Scotland's Glasgow Celtic, tested Williams with a shot two minutes later.

Cortnee Vine had a chance to tie it for Australia in the 82nd minute but her shot curled just wide of the post.

Lacasse had a gilt-edged chance in the dying minutes off an Awujo setup but, after doing the hard work, ballooned her shot.

Canada improved to 7-2-3 in 2022, with the losses 1-0 to No. 8 Spain at the Arnold Clark Cup in February and 1-0 to the U.S. at the CONCACAF W Championship.

The Australian women fell to 5-3-1 in 2022. They last played in June when a depleted squad tied No. 27 Portugal 1-1 and was humbled 7-0 by Spain.

While Australia held a 7-6-3 edge over Canada all-time going into the two-match series, the Canadians had lost just two of the last nine meetings (5-2-2) and won 2-0 when the teams last met — in their opening game at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Australia won 2-1 the last time the two played Down Under, in May 2008 in Sydney.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 3, 2022

The Canadian Press