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.
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
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.
What happens if Tillies win tonight and Uzbekistan wins Wednesday night? Who goes to Paris?
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
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.
The song we sing here, Hey hey Heyman ooohh ahhh, I wanna know if you’ll kick that goal!
– Canberra is cool
And again ⚽️⚽️⚽️⚽️
– 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!
Floodgates open. Thanks Caitlin! ⚽️💚💛
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.
Mary Fowler you superstar! 😍⚽️💚💛
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.
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.
Finally ⚽️⚽️⚽️⚽️⚽️⚽️ Michelle Hayman
– Vic in Vic
Oh Michelle! I’m in tears! ⚽️💚💛😍
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.
#Matildas #triumph #Uzbekistan #Olympic #qualifier