Ellie Carpenter says Matildas are best with backs to wall ahead of ‘do-or-die’ Canada clash

A game, but also an occasion. That’s how Matildas’ wingback Ellie Carpenter describes the team’s must-win final group stage clash with Canada in Melbourne on Monday. Win, and Australia will progress to the round of 16 at this historic home Women’s World Cup. Lose, and their tournament is over before it really began.

Carpenter is under no illusions about the task ahead. “Honestly, I feel like we’re best when we have our backs to the wall,” she said on Saturday. “It’s a do-or-die game, and our spirit – we all know we have to leave everything out there on Monday.”

Related: Sam Kerr declares herself fit and available for Matildas’ must-win World Cup clash against Canada

The Matildas are in this predicament after losing to Nigeria on Thursday night. It was a game of mixed emotions for Carpenter, who looked dangerous on the flank but struggled to contain Nigeria’s wingers.

“It was all our mistakes, their goals,” she said. “That’s football at the end of the day. But when we had the ball, we thought we created a lot of chances.” The Matildas converted two of those chances, but wasted many others and allowed the Super Falcons to score three.

“It’s just about that execution in that final pass,” Carpenter said. “But I think as a group collectively, we’ve put that behind us, the Nigeria game, we’ve got what we need to get out of that.”

Despite the disappointment of losing in front of a near capacity crowd in Brisbane, the Matildas are now focused on beating Canada in Melbourne. “I know for a fact that these last few days, all we’ve been doing is recovering, getting ourselves ready,” Carpenter said. “And as soon as that final whistle went the other night [against Nigeria], we already turned that page and I was fully focused for Monday. I wanted to play the next day really.”

Ellie Carpenter speaks to the media in Brisbane.

Ellie Carpenter speaks to the media in Brisbane. Photograph: Jono Searle/EPA

Carpenter paid tribute to the Australian fans who have come out in force to support the Matildas, breaking several crowd records in recent weeks. “It’s been massive,” she said. “Especially against Nigeria in those last 10 minutes, you could feel the crowd – I just knew we were gonna get a goal back.”

The Lyon wing-back echoed the call of her captain, Sam Kerr, in asking the nation to get behind the team in their crucial final group match. “I think on Monday, the crowd is so important for us,” she said. “So Melbourne, AAMI Park, whatever you need to do – I know that you can help us get over the line. Having that home crowd is massive – it’s really going to push us to those final minutes.”

The return of Kerr from injury, plus fellow striker Mary Fowler and defender Aivi Luik from concussions, has invigorated the squad. Kerr and Fowler promise a potent attacking line on Monday night.

“Having your captain back is the best feeling that we can have as a group, as a squad,” Carpenter said. “She’s a world class striker, she’s our captain, she’s our leader on and off the field. I think on Monday, obviously, it’s a do or die game, we have to win.”

The Matildas lost twice to Canada, the Olympic champions, in friendlies at home last year. Carpenter said the team had spent time on Saturday carefully studying Canada’s recent performances and were optimistic of improving on the last meeting between the two nations.

Related: How Australia can advance to the round of 16: Matildas’ Women’s World Cup 2023 scenarios

“Obviously, they’re going to back themselves – they’re a confident team, they are a top 10 team, they have quality players everywhere along the pitch,” Carpenter said.

A draw would be enough for Canada to progress, but Carpenter thought it was unlikely they would play defensively. “I’d be surprised if they do sit off, I think they will go for it,” she said. “But that makes it an even better game. You don’t want a team sitting off. I think we’re better when both teams are going for – it leaves it open, leaves the best team to win.”

The million-dollar question, for Australian football, is whether the better team will be the Matildas. The encounter is arguably the most important match for the Australian women’s team in their 45-year history.

“On Monday it’s a game but it’s also an occasion,” Carpenter said. But the Matildas are trying to take it all in their stride. “Mentally we need to remind ourselves not to exert so much energy and focus before the game. And just wait until that whistle goes.”

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