By Nick Mulvenney
SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia's stuttering preparations for co-hosting next year's Women's World Cup continued on Tuesday when the Matildas were beaten 2-1 by Canada at Sydney Football Stadium, a second loss in four days to the Olympic champions.
The hosts made the perfect start when teenager Mary Fowler scored in the third minute from a Sam Kerr pass, delighting the crowd of 27,000 who had flocked to watch the first football match at the sparkling new arena.
Australia failed to respond when Canada shifted up a gear in the second half, however, and winger Adriana Leon scored in the 48th and 64th minutes to secure the victory, as she had done in the 1-0 win in Brisbane on Saturday.
On the evidence of Tuesday's game, Australia will have no problem filling stadiums with enthusiastic fans next year when they host the World Cup with New Zealand in a little over 10 months' time.
Whether the Matildas have the quality for a run deep into the tournament, however, will remain a concern after a spell of four matches without a win, including a 7-0 thumping at the hands of Spain.
Australia's bigger names were absent from that thrashing in Huelva but Canada showed on Tuesday that it takes more than a couple of world class players to make a team.
Kerr, tightly marked as befits one of the best strikers in the game, spent much of the night waiting in vain for the sort of service that would enable her to do what she does best.
Fowler showed enough quality in midfield to confirm that Australia have a precious talent on their hands and the 19-year-old finished coolly from around the penalty spot when captain Kerr found her with an early cross-field pass.
Canada were far more accurate in their passing once they found their rhythm in the second half, however, and Leon's goals were a just reward for the energy she brought to the attack.
Australia's under fire coach Tony Gustavsson is deliberately exposing his team to the toughest round of friendlies that he can schedule and has pleaded with fans to trust his process.
"It's frustrating because the first 45 minutes was the first complete performance we've had in a long while and we were dominating Canada," the Swede told reporters.
Even without success for the Matildas, however, the prospect of Australasia being the centre of the women's game for a month next year is enough for some.
"I'm so excited," Harper Lewis, who was attending the game with two school friends, told Reuters. "I'll be going to as many matches as I can."
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Ken Ferris)