Melbourne stars break Canberra hearts

 Former Canberra United star and Matildas goalkeeper Lydia Williams.
Former Canberra United star and Matildas goalkeeper Lydia Williams.

Matildas goalkeeper Lydia Williams hopes the ACT government reconsiders its decision to withdraw from Australia's World Cup bid after she returned to Canberra to break hearts on Sunday.

Williams and Melbourne City snatched a win against Canberra United at McKellar Park, the visitors converting a 93rd minute penalty in a 2-1 triumph.

More than 1200 fans packed into the stands on a hot afternoon to watch a gritty Canberra go within inches of upsetting the star-studded Melbourne roster.

But the same fans won't get a chance to see the Matildas in action at the 2023 World Cup if Australia's bid is successful.

The government says the cost of hosting up to six games and a potential schedule clash at Canberra Stadium prompted officials to withdraw from the FFA's proposal.

Williams, who grew up in Canberra and started her W-League career at United, said not being a part of the growing tournament would be a missed chance.

"I think the [South Australian] government was out, but they got back in. Anything is possible," Williams said.

"The support we had at Canberra United, or when the Matildas play here, it's a great city to show off women's sport. And especially for a World Cup. If we get the World Cup, I think it's a lost opportunity."

Melbourne needed Williams at her best in the W-League, with Canberra chasing a big round-two scalp. Melbourne boasts plenty of Matildas firepower, including former Canberra players Williams, Ellie Carpenter, Emily Van Egmond, Emma Checker and Yukari Kinga, but they found it tough to crack a determined home side.

The first half was a goal-less arm wrestle, with both sides failing to take chances as defensive lines held strong.

But Canberra blew the game open after the break, with three international recruits combining to score the opener.

Simone Charley, who was outstanding for the entire game, forced a turnover and the ball fell to Brazilian star Camila Pereira. Pereira's long-range shot caught Williams off guard and slammed into the post.

The rebound fell to American Katie Stengel, who hammered home the goal despite a diving Williams' attempted stop.

It gave Canberra the upperhand, but Milica Mijatovic scored an equaliser eight minutes later and then the heartbreaker came at the end of regular time.

Canberra was denied a penalty chance for a clear handball in their attacking box. Melbourne took advantage, racing to the other end and winning a penalty when Kinga was taken down. Van Egmond converted and shattered Canberra's chances.

"We all believe in each other, we all know what we want and we're so disappointed not to get the three points. Even a draw wouldn't have been good enough," said Canberra coach Heather Garriock.

"We've come a long way, and that's credit to the players buying into what we want to do ... With the stars they've got, they should be winning. We've got no stars, that's what I love. We're underdogs and we'll fight until the end."

Canberra skipper Karly Roestbakken had the task of keeping Matildas star Carpenter quiet in her return to the capital.

"That was certainly difficult," Williams said. "We got the win, there's more to build on for us. But obviously we want to keep a clean sheet. We've definitely got some momentum now."

This story Melbourne stars break Canberra hearts first appeared on The Canberra Times.