Matildas triumph 3-0 over Uzbekistan in first Olympic qualifier

Michelle Heyman has scored her first international goal in almost eight years to inspire a 3-0 victory over Uzbekistan and drag the Matildas one step closer to a place at the Paris Olympics.

In their first match since superstar skipper Sam Kerr tore her ACL in January, Australia understandably missed one of the world’s best strikers at the Milliy Stadium in Tashkent.

The Matildas were scratchy and lacked cohesion, while Emily van Egmond had a horror night up forward, missing one sitter and failing to convert two other chances she would normally bury.

Coach Tony Gustavsson turned to Canberra United star Heyman, 35, to replace van Egmond off the bench in the 65th minute, and the veteran delivered just eight minutes later.

In her first appearance since 2018, Heyman headed home her 21st goal for Australia and her first since netting twice against Zimbabwe at the Rio Olympics on August 9, 2016.

Mary Fowler, who was wonderful in the second half, scored a sublime individual goal in the 84th minute, and Caitlin Foord headed home in the 86th to seal victory.

It means Australia will head into Wednesday’s second leg at Melbourne’s Marvel Stadium with a crucial 3-0 lead in the tie.

Debutant Kaitlyn Torpey started on the wing, wearing Kerr’s number 20 but was hooked for Foord, who was having her game time managed, at half-time.

Australia had 75 per cent of possession in the first half but just four shots and one on target, but they finished with 26 (eight on target).

They should have taken the lead in the 21st minute when Torpey tried to square for van Egmond instead of shooting.

Hayley Raso dragged a first-time strike wide on the half-hour mark, and shortly afterwards van Egmond hooked over the bar.

Just before half-time, van Egmond failed to get a header on target from point-blank range.

In the 54th minute, Fowler curled a wonderful ball behind the Uzbekistan defence and van Egmond inexplicably failed to tap home.

Heyman headed over the bar a minute after coming on, then delivered the lead when she nodded a corner onto the bar before following up with a second header.

Fowler then intercepted a clearance with a wonderful first touch, weaved between defenders and ripped a fantastic long-range strike inside the near post.

Foord found space and turned home a Steph Catley cross to wrap up proceedings.

Check out how all the action unfolded in our live blog below.

Key events

Final thoughts

 First of all: whew.

That first half was pretty rusty, as expected, but Tony Gustavsson’s substitutes gave the Matildas exactly the energy and dynamism they needed to unlock what had been, until then, a very solid Uzbekistan defence.

Michelle Heyman will be absolutely buzzing, scoring her first goal since 2016 upon her return to the national team after a four-year retirement, while Mary Fowler and the excellent Caitlin Foord added goals two and three.

You’d have to think the Canberra striker is a lock to start in the second leg in Melbourne on Wednesday: she provided Australia with a target player, height, power, and important movement to bring other players into the game around her.

Now that they’ve made it through this chilly first game, the Matildas return home with wind in their sails and a 3-0 advantage, which is exactly what they would have wanted.

Thanks so much for joining me on the blog for tonight’s game, and I can’t wait to be back here on Wednesday as we see whether the gals can qualify for their third Olympic Games in a row!

See you then!

Full-time: Uzbekistan 0 – 3 Australia

Crowd numbers

Robbie Thompson has said the crowd in Tashkent is just under 2,500 people.

As of today, almost the entirety of Marvel Stadium is sold out for Wednesday’s second leg.

The Uzbekistan players won’t be ready for noise like that, I reckon.

Permutations

What happens if Tillies win tonight and Uzbekistan wins Wednesday night? Who goes to Paris?

– EveWintergreen

It depends on how much Uzbekistan hypothetically win by.

If Australia finish this game 3-0 winners, Uzbekistan would need to win at least 4-0 in Melbourne on Wednesday to qualify for Paris.

90′ Three minutes of time added on

Same, honestly

UZB’s goalie kicking the ball back in the net after the third goal is so real. I would be so frustrated

– Em for Matildas

89′ Australia substitution

Ellie Carpenter comes off for Charlie Grant.

Catchy!

The song we sing here, Hey hey Heyman ooohh ahhh, I wanna know if you’ll kick that goal!

– Canberra is cool

Yiew!!!

And again ⚽️⚽️⚽️⚽️
Mary Fowler

– Vic in Vic

HaHAAAAAA! Heyman + Fowler

– Big Ben

Mary Mary Mary you beaute

– Em for Matildas

Just my luck. I step out to put stuff in the fridge, and the Tillies score a goal. Belated Hooray, anyway!

– SeonaBath

Floodgates open. Thanks Caitlin! ⚽️💚💛

– Leo

85′ GOAL AUSTRALIA

Caitlin Foord makes it three!

The Matildas have been trying this move all night: a winger chipping a pass in behind Uzbekistan’s defenders to find the head of an attacking player, and this time Caitlin Foord is there, all alone, to nod home a perfectly-weighted cross from Steph Catley.

3-0!

Hail Mary!

Mary Fowler you superstar! 😍⚽️💚💛

– Leo

83′ GOAL AUSTRALIA!

MAGIC MARY FOWLER MAKES IT TWO!

The midfielder has been chipping away at Uzbekistan’s defenders all night, and this time she just goes route one: picking up the ball in deep midfield and dancing past three players all by herself.

She skates towards the top of the box and steadies herself, unleashing her lethal right foot through the rubber to send a shot low and hard across the goalkeeper and into the bottom corner of the net.

2-0!!!

82′ Australia substitutions

Aivi Luik replaces Alanna Kennedy, while Tameka Yallop comes on for Hayley Raso.

80′ Chance Australia!

Goodness me, that was almost a bizarre second goal for the Matildas.

A long, dipping cross from Mary Fowler far out on the left wing is falling perfectly into the Zone Of Hesitation between Caitlin Foord and Uzbekistan’s goalkeeper, with both of them thinking the other was going to touch it, only for neither of them to get it at all.

Instead, the ball bounces past all of them and a gasp goes around the ground as it almost nestles into the far corner of the net, but bounces just wide instead.

77′ Matildas want a second

They’ve been attacking Uzbekistan in waves for the past five minutes, coming in at all angles and trying to keep the tempo and pressure up on their opponents.

Catley’s corners have been on-point all night, and are looking like Australia’s best attacking weapon at the moment. Alanna Kennedy could have nodded home the Matildas’ second goal a few minutes ago, but she mistimed her jump. Clare Hunt did the same just now.

You’d think they’ll be working a bit more on finishing their headers in the interim before the second leg of this series on Wednesday night, but wouldn’t it be great to snag one or two more goals here so that the pressure is off in Melbourne?

I sure would love that.

Woohoo!!!!

YYYYYYYYYYYYEEEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!!

– Natty

Finally ⚽️⚽️⚽️⚽️⚽️⚽️ Michelle Hayman

– Vic in Vic

Oh Michelle! I’m in tears! ⚽️💚💛😍

– Leo

CRYING SCREAMING THROWING UP I AM SO HAPPY

– Em for Matildas

Finally! Tillies score off a corner in how long? Thank you Ms Heyman and welcome back.

– Big Ben

72′ GOAL AUSTRALIA!

MICHELLE HEYMAN SCORES IN HER COMEBACK GAME!

A brilliant corner from Steph Catley angles in towards the front post, bobbling off Heyman’s shoulder and clanging off the crossbar.

It could have deflected anywhere, but it fell straight back to her, and she nodded it over the scrambling Uzbekistan defender on the line and into the net.

1-0!

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Michelle Heyman’s Matildas recall highlights Australian football’s striker problem

When news broke in January that Matildas captain Sam Kerr had torn her ACL, keeping her on the sidelines of the sport for the better part of the next year, a question that had been simmering in the background of Australian women’s football for the past few years suddenly reached boiling-point.

How can the country’s greatest ever goal-scorer be replaced? Which player is ready to step into the 30-year-old’s golden shoes? Who is next in the production-line of Australian strikers?

This question was being asked even when Kerr was fit and healthy. Since the 2019 Women’s World Cup, doubts were festering that the Matildas had become too reliant on the Chelsea forward, and that the team struggled to find the back of the net without her.

Sam Kerr’s ACL injury has put a spotlight on Australian football’s ongoing struggle to develop strikers.(AAP Image: Richard Wainwright)

The 2022 Women’s Asian Cup quarterfinal against South Korea was a case in point: Kerr started that game and had a handful of open-net chances which, for some reason, she failed to finish. The Matildas lost 1-0 and exited the competition at the earliest point in their history.

The question was the subtext to Kerr’s calf injury on the eve of the 2023 Women’s World Cup, too: how on earth would the team perform without their star player? Who else do we have waiting in the wings to take over?

While head coach Tony Gustavsson was able to rapidly shuffle the team’s structure and rely more on other players like Caitlin Foord, Hayley Raso, Mary Fowler and Emily Van Egmond to step up in her place, Kerr’s memorable goal against England in the semifinal — the only bright spark in an otherwise fatigued performance from the rest of the team — left many wondering how much further the Matildas could have gone had she been available the whole time.

But there is no day-by-day countdown clock on Kerr’s return now, as there was last July. Today, we have certainty that she won’t make a miraculously speedy recovery to be fully fit for the Olympic qualifying play-off against Uzbekistan in about two weeks, nor for the Olympic Games in Paris in just five months’ time. The question has now come into full and urgent focus.

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The Matildas now know who they’ll have to beat to book their ticket to the Paris Olympics

The Matildas have swept the second round of their Olympic qualifying campaign with a 3-0 victory over Chinese Taipei, with a date with 50th-ranked Uzbekistan set for February to book their ticket to Paris 2024.

After beating Iran 2-0, followed by a spectacular 8-0 demolition of the Philippines in front of a record crowd on Sunday, their third straight win meant Australia finished on top of Group A with a perfect nine points from nine and a goal difference of plus-13.

To qualify for the Olympics, the Matildas must now beat Uzbekistan in a two-legged home-and-away play-off in February to secure one of the two spots given to Asian confederation teams.

Australia, North Korea and Japan secured their places among the final four in Asia by topping the three groups, with Uzbekistan joining them as the best-placed runner-up thanks to a 3-0 win over India.

Australia and world number eight Japan were both perfect in round two, but the Matildas’ goal difference ensured they were the top qualifier.

In front of 19,084 fans on Wednesday night, it took until the 62nd minute for Australia to open the scoring — but it was worth the wait.

Mary Fowler trapped a floated pass and took one more touch before unleashing a powerful strike from 20 metres out to send the crowd wild.

Six minutes later, hometown hero Sam Kerr scored the Matildas’ 900th goal from point-blank range to keep the ball rolling, before substitute Tameka Yallop sealed the deal in the 76th minute.

With goal difference pivotal, the Matildas unleashed a near full-strength starting XI against Chinese Taipei featuring Kerr, Caitlin Foord, Fowler, Mackenzie Arnold and Steph Catley.

But despite registering 17 shots to one in the first half and enjoying 79 per cent possession, the Matildas couldn’t find a way past their opposition’s staunch defence.

Fowler came the closest in the 14th minute, but her powerful shot from close range rattled the woodwork and deflected away.

Stand-out Chinese Taipei goalkeeper Cheng Ssu-Yu pulled off a series of strong saves to further frustrate the Matildas.

But Australia had only themselves to blame on other occasions, firing a series of shots either wide or over the target.

Kerr had a golden chance to open the scoring on the stroke of half-time, but her header at the far post went over the crossbar.

The Chelsea striker also fluffed a chance early in the second half when a poor first touch cost her what would have been a one-on-one opportunity against the goalkeeper.

But there was no stopping Fowler’s thunderous strike in the 62nd minute.

And when a goal-mouth scramble ensued shortly after, Kerr was on hand to score the tap-in.

Kerr was subbed off straight after the goal, but Yallop ensured the party continued with an easy finish following good lead-in work from Foord and Amy Sayer.

In the other match in Perth on Wednesday, the Philippines beat Iran 1-0 courtesy of a 19th minute goal from Tahnai Annis.

Check out how the match unfolded below with our blog.

Key events

Final thoughts

And with that, the Matildas fly through to the third round of Olympic qualifying after a blistering second-half performance against Chinese Taipei.

A glorious goal to Mary Fowler broke the deadlock, with Sam Kerr and Tameka Yallop adding to the damage as Australia finally crashed through an admirable opposition defence, highlighted by a stand-out performance from goalkeeper Cheng Ssu-Yu.

This is the final game the Matildas will play at home this year, and what a year it has been. These three sell-out games in Perth cap off a truly magical rise for the team in 2023, peaking with their Women’s World Cup run. Their impact will ripple through generations to come.

So what’s next for the team? A pair of friendlies against Canada in December, before returning to action in February in the third round of Olympic qualifying where they’ll face one of Asia’s stronger sides in a home-and-away series. Win that final leg and they’re through to Paris in July, where they have unfinished business after just missing out on a medal in Tokyo.

And as always, I’ll be there to take you through it all.

Thank you so much for joining me tonight for our live coverage of Australia v Chinese Taipei. You’re all legends for staying up so late, and I’m thrilled we got a fantastic second-half performance from the team to make tomorrow’s bleary-eyed workday worth it.

Take care and I’ll see you all soon!

Vic is two predictions from two!

Tim Tam slam for me 💚💛😜

– Vic in Vic

Quick, go and buy a lottery ticket, Vic!

Full-time: Australia 3 – 0 Chinese Taipei

92′ Australia keep on coming

We want four! They want four!

Caitlin Foord, Kyra Cooney-Cross, and Mary Fowler are all still hungry, swimming around the box as they search for a sealer.

The ball falls to Fowler, who’s on an absolute tear, opening her body up and thumping the rubber.

I fully expected it to fly into the net – as did most of the crowd based on the “ooh”s – but it goes just wide of the post.

5 minutes of added time

You and all of us, Tony!

I will sleep better now. phew! Thanks for the coverage Sam. Cheers

– Tony

Glad the Tillies could put on a show for ya in the second half.

I will sleep soundly knowing that we’ve got at least another ten years of Mary Fowler. And she’s already this good. Golly.

And the Player of the Match goes to…

Crowd number: 19,084

Woohoo!

That’s three sell-outs for the past three games, taking the sell-out streak for the Matildas to 11 consecutive games.

Sensational work, Perth. We should bring games there more often.

84′ Yallop almost has another!

A gorgeous floating cross from Amy Sayer on the right wing is looking for the head of Tameka Yallop, who made an immediate impact off the bench a few minutes ago.

The ball is floating in that in-between space where a single inch can determine who gets it, with Yallop and Chinese Taipei goalkeeper Cheng Ssu-Yu both throwing themselves up into the sky to connect with it.

The goalkeeper’s gloves reach the ball first, but Yallop’s momentum carries her into the keeper and clatters her into the grass.

She’s up a few moments later, taking a few sips of water. She’s been absolutely epic this game, and I recall the comments from her head coach Chan Hiu Ming yesterday, asking Australian A-League Women clubs to keep an eye on some of his players to potentially give them some opportunities.

Well, there’s someone who’s put her gloved hand up tonight.

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Matildas defeat Philippines 8-0 in second Olympic qualifier

Three days after scrapping past a stubborn Iran side, the Matildas have rediscovered their groove by defeating the Philippines 8-0 in front of a record crowd at Perth Stadium as their Olympic qualification campaign charges onwards.

Hat-tricks to Sam Kerr and Caitlin Foord were complemented by goals to Mary Fowler and Clare Wheeler in both halves as head coach Tony Gustavsson fielded his strongest line-up for the first time since the World Cup.

In front of a sellout crowd of 59,155 at Optus Stadium on Sunday, Kerr and Foord scored first-half braces as Australia took a 5-0 lead into the break.

Kerr secured her hat-trick just 24 seconds into the second half when she headed home a pin-point cross from Mary Fowler for her 68th goal from 127 internationals.

Foord notched her own hat-trick in the 56th minute when she danced around an opponent on the by-line and nailed her shot from a tight angle.

The result thrust the Matildas to the top of Group A on six points, meaning all they need is a draw against Chinese Taipei next Wednesday to guarantee progression to the final stage of qualification in February.

Even with a loss the Matildas would either top the group or at least qualify as the best runner-up from the three Asian confederation groups.

The only concern from Sunday’s match was an injury to substitute Cortnee Vine, who came off in the 75th minute with what appeared to be a hamstring issue 10 minutes after coming on.

“It’s amazing to play here in front of a packed crowd,” Kerr told channel 10 after the match.

“I think everyone came out here and gave 100 per cent. We worked our butts off today, that’s for sure.”

The Matildas rested most of their biggest stars in Thursday’s 2-0 win against Iran, but they wheeled out a full-strength outfit against the Philippines in a match that would effectively decide the group winner.

Kerr, Foord, Mackenzie Arnold, Steph Catley and Fowler were among the 10 changes, and it didn’t take long for the floodgates to open.

Fowler opened the scoring in the 15th minute courtesy of a clever deflection from Foord.

And the crowd went into a frenzy when Kerr scored from close range in the 19th minute following a superb run by Foord, who beat two opponents before dishing off the assist.

Kerr turned provider for the next goal when she expertly controlled Fowler’s lobbed pass before dishing off to Foord to score in the 30th minute.

Foord added another three minutes later when she held off an opponent before sliding a shot past the goalkeeper as she was falling to ground.

Kerr made it 5-0 on the stroke of half-time when she found herself one-on-one against the goalkeeper and blasted the ball into the back of the net.

The Matildas skipper headed home Fowler’s cross just 24 seconds into the second half, and it was party time in the 56th minute when Foord evaded an opponent to secure her hat-trick.

Kerr, Hayley Raso, Kyra Cooney-Cross and Katrina Gorry were subbed off in the 65th minute with the job done, but substitute Clare Wheeler ensured the party continued with a 72nd-minute rocket from the edge of the box to secure her maiden international goal.

The world number 44 Philippines, coached by Western United boss Mark Torcaso, came from behind to beat Chinese Taipei 4-1 in their group stage opener, but they were simply no match for the Matildas.

Read how the match unfolded in our liveblog below.

Key events

Thanks and ciao

It’s been a joy bringing you tonight’s incredible performance from the Tillies. The teal away kit really does give them special powers.

Their final match against Chinese Taipei kicks off at 10:00pm AEDT on Wednesday night, and you bet your butts I’ll be back on the blog for what is hopefully another convincing outing from the gals.

Until then, have a great start to your week, and I’ll see you then!

Final thoughts

We couldn’t have asked for much more than that, could we?

Eight goals, including five in the first half. A clean sheet. Two hat-tricks. A record crowd.

The Matildas’ path towards qualification for the Paris Olympics next year seems like just a matter of time.

A completely dominant performance, especially from the returned World Cup heroes.

While the second-half fizzled out somewhat after a raft of changes, which is something the team will need to sort out moving into the third round of qualifying against much tougher opposition, for now there’s not much more that could’ve been better.

23 shots, 12 on target, 76% possession, 689 passes, 5 corners.

And a very, very happy Perth crowd.

Full-time: Australia 8 – 0 Philippines

93′ Sayer isn’t giving up!

The young midfielder comes charging into the six-yard box head-first, trying to connect with a fizzing cross from Carpenter from the byline.

But the ball is just too quick and Sayer – as well as everybody else – misses it completely.

92′ Emily Van Egmond could’ve capped it off

The Philippines are basically blue training cones now; they’re barely able to track back or keep up with the Matildas.

Emily Van Egmond and Ellie Carpenter exchange a couple passes, with the substitute kinda just walking towards the top of the box without any pressure. She has so much time to open her body up and take a shot, but for some reason tries to pass through to Foord, who’s standing offside anyway.

The ball trickles away. Weird moment.

Four minutes of stoppage time

And the Matildas are still hunting for a ninth goal, bless ’em.

89′ Chance!

A deep free kick by Catley finds the head of Amy Sayer this time, who flings her dark ponytail at it totally unchallenged near the six-yard area, but it’s an awkward connection and bounces well over the crossbar.

So still a ways to go

Hi Sam, just checked on Wikipedia and it’s about the 8th biggest crowd at Optus. After some AFL games, a Bledisloe Cup and a State of Origin.

PS. How’s your French?

– Mark

My French is very bad. The Duolingo owl is not happy with me.

But we’re one step closer to the Paris Olympics, so I think I might have to brush up…

Same

Wow… this is embarrassing…I got it wronger than I ever have.

– Natty

But honestly, I’m okay with being wrong if these are the kinds of performances and score-lines we get!

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