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.


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.


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

– Canberra is cool


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


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.


Hail Mary!

Mary Fowler you superstar! 😍⚽️💚💛

– Leo



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.



– Natty

Finally ⚽️⚽️⚽️⚽️⚽️⚽️ Michelle Hayman

– Vic in Vic

Oh Michelle! I’m in tears! ⚽️💚💛😍

– Leo


– Em for Matildas

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

– Big Ben



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.


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Uzbekistan, which once backed anti-Taliban forces, is now betting on engagement

In the late 1990s, when the Taliban were in power in Kabul, Uzbekistan, along with Tajikistan, Russia, India and others, supported the anti-Taliban United Front (Northern Alliance) that had controlled parts of northern Afghanistan. Now, when the Taliban are back in Kabul, after a gap of 20 years, Tashkent is experimenting a different policy — cautious engagement.

To be sure, Afghanistan’s domestic and regional environment is different this time from the 1990s. The Taliban now control almost all of the country’s territories. There’s no Northern Alliance. The remnants of the anti-Taliban forces have formed the National Resistance Front (NRF), but unlike the Northern Alliance of the 1990s, the NRF neither controls land inside Afghanistan nor has regional backing. As the Taliban’s grip on Afghanistan appears to be stronger, regional powers seek guarded cooperation, while pushing for changes in the Islamic Emirate’s policies. Uzbekistan is leading the effort.

Afghan people climb atop a plane as they wait at the Kabul airport in Kabul on August 16, 2021, after a stunningly swift end to Afghanistan’s 20-year war, as thousands of people mobbed the city’s airport trying to flee the group’s feared hardline brand of Islamist rule.
| Photo Credit:

Also read: Explained | Why is Afghanistan staring at a humanitarian disaster?

Tashkent meet 

Last month, Uzbekistan hosted a meeting of the Foreign Ministers of Afghanistan’s neighbouring countries in Samarkand, in which the Taliban Foreign Minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi, also participated. Mr. Muttaqi, who held bilateral talks with Uzbek Foreign Minister Bahtiyor Saidov, said Kabul was ready for the Trans-Afghanistan Railway project, which will connect Uzbekistan to Pakistan through Afghanistan and will significantly contribute to regional economic integration”.

“There’s a new reality in Afghanistan. The global community has demanded that the government in Afghanistan should be inclusive; rights of minorities and women should be protected and the country should not be a staging ground for terrorism. Uzbekistan has the same demands,” Manish Prabhat, India’s Ambassador in Uzbekistan, told a media delegation from India at the embassy in Tashkent. “But at the same time, Uzbekistan is sending humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, like India is also sending. It’s our shared view that terror should not spill over into Central Asia. Any instability in Afghanistan will affect us,” Mr. Prabhat said.

Taliban fighters walk through the compound of the Hazrat-e-Ali shrine or Blue Mosque in Mazar-i-Sharif | file photo

Taliban fighters walk through the compound of the Hazrat-e-Ali shrine or Blue Mosque in Mazar-i-Sharif | file photo
| Photo Credit:

In the 1990s, the Taliban, who are mostly Pashtun, faced military resistance from the militias that represented Afghanistan’s ethnic minorities such as the Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras. The Northern Alliance, commanded by Tajik warlord Ahmad Shah Massoud, was a conglomerate of anti-Taliban forces. Uzbekistan, under the leadership of Islam Karimov, the country’s first President after it became independent in 1991, largely acted as a patron of Gen. Abdur Rashid Dostum, who commanded an Uzbek militia that was part of the Alliance. But President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who succeeded Karimov in 2016 after his death, is pushing for dialogue, engagement and cooperation.

Also read: Analysis | How Kabul fell

Constructive contact 

In September last year, while speaking at the 22nd summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in Samarkand (in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi attended), Mr. Mirziyoyev said the imposition of sanctions on the Taliban-run Afghanistan “will isolate Afghanistan and increase extremism in the country”. He called for “constructive contact with Kabul”.

In December, Mr. Mirziyoyev’s government submitted an initiative to the U.N. Security Council, calling for the formation of a high-level international negotiating group to coordinate with the Taliban for the step-by-step implementation of the demands of the international community, which includes lifting the ban on girl’s education and women’s participation in the workforce.

A Taliban fighter walks past a beauty saloon with images of women defaced using a spray paint in Shar-e-Naw in Kabul on August 18, 2021.

A Taliban fighter walks past a beauty saloon with images of women defaced using a spray paint in Shar-e-Naw in Kabul on August 18, 2021.
| Photo Credit:

“In my mind, we should listen to what they want. At least we will be able to see what they are thinking about Central Asia, about the future of our neighbours. Because we are too close. If you go to Termez, you can see Afghanistan, just across Amu-Darya (the river that divides Uzbekistan and Afghanistan). You cannot ignore them. They have taken political power. Why should we keep silent? We have to work with them,” said Beruniy Alimov, director, New Media Education Center, a Tashkent-based NGO.

Also read: Explained | What’s behind the Pakistani Taliban’s deadly insurgency?

“We have our problems with the Taliban. Look at the water problem of Central Asia. If there will be war in the region, it will be in the name of water. The Taliban started digging a canal on the Afghan side taking more water from the Amu-Darya. That could lead to Amu-Darya drying up. This is one point. Another point is about security. But how do we address these issues if we don’t talk to them?” asked Mr. Alimov, who was the Press Secretary of former President Karimov.

When in the past Uzbekistan supported Gen. Dostum and his Afghan Uzbek militias, the Taliban hosted the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), a jihadist group that wanted to overthrow Karimov’s regime and create an Islamic State under Sharia. Today, Tashkent seeks assurances from the Taliban that they would not allow jihadist groups such as the IMU to launch terror attacks in Central Asia.

“We have to work with the Taliban on the security question. They have promised that they would not allow any terrorist group to operate inside Afghanistan. We should make sure that they stick to the promise,” said Mr. Alimov.

A Taliban fighter stands guard as Afghan people attend Eid al-Fitr prayers, marking the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Friday, April 21, 2023.

A Taliban fighter stands guard as Afghan people attend Eid al-Fitr prayers, marking the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Friday, April 21, 2023.
| Photo Credit:

Connectivity hub

Besides the security question, the overall relationship between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan has transformed over the past 20 years. Mr. Mirziyoyev doesn’t want the regime change in Kabul to impact his strategic bets on big ticket connectivity projects.

WATCH: Worldview with Suhasini Haidar | One year of the Taliban | How far has Afghanistan fallen behind?

For example, the ambitious Trans-Afghan Project, first proposed in 2018, aims to extend the Afghan rail network from the Uzbek border through Mazar-i-Sharif to Kabul and then to Nangarhar in Afghanistan’s east, from where the railway would run into Pakistan via Peshawar (roughly 573 k.m.). The Taliban are also very keen on the rail project. A rail link is already operational from Uzbekistan to Mazar through the Dustlik Bridge across Amu-Darya. The bridge is Afghanistan’s main gateway to the outside world through which humanitarian aid flows in.

Uzbekistan is also the top supplier of electricity to Afghanistan, which is importing 75% of its consumption. Uzbekistan has spent millions of dollars to build and upgrade electricity infrastructure across the border and as per an ADB report, the country is supplying 57% of Afghanistan’s imported electricity which could rise to 70% soon. Tashkent wants the business to continue, while making sure that the Taliban do not support groups that would spread instability in Central Asia, say experts.

“If Afghanistan stabilises, it’s good for both India and Uzbekistan, as well as for Central Asia,” said Mr. Alimov, who studied in the Indian Institute of Mass Communication in Delhi in the 1990s. “Afghanistan is a bridge between us. When Babur (the founder of the Mughal Empire) came to India, he went through Afghanistan. Today, we use the same route. So Afghanistan should be very peaceful. That will make our cooperation better.”  

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