13/04/2024

The Matildas in training as they prepared for the first leg of the Olympic Qualifiers vs Uzbekistan. Photo Credit: Football Australia

Coming into the away leg of their two match series against Uzbekistan, 180 minutes and a goal was all that stood between the Matildas and Olympic Qualification.

Coming out of the away leg with a 3-0 victory, the equation was much more simple for the Matildas, as they are now only 90 minutes away from a spot in Paris.

The Inner Sanctum looks at some of the key takeaways from the game.

Kaitlyn Torpey starts on international debut

When Tony Gustavsson made his squad selection, he said Torpey’s inclusion came down to her improvement in performances after her return from injury and her time in the U23 squad.

It was those performances which earned her a transfer to NWSL side San Diego Wave, and she looked amazing on debut for the Matildas.

Starting as a left midfielder in a 4-4-2 formation, she found herself floating across numerous positions, including right midfield swapping with Raso on multiple occasions. 

Two of the best chances in the first half fell to Torpey, and she was unable to capitalise.

The first was in the 21st minute as she was on the receiving end of a cross from Hayley Raso, and Torpey chose to pass it off for Emily van Egmond instead of shooting, who was unsuccessful.

The second came in the 45th minute with Uzbekistan trying to play out from the back and Nilufar Kudratova passing it straight to van Egmond, who laid it off to Torpey in space.

Instead of shooting, she again passed it off, this time to Raso, who got shut down almost immediately.

Torpey would be substituted at half-time for Caitlin Foord in what was a strong debut for the San Diego Wave player. 

Tony’s tactics continue to puzzle

Starting in a 4-4-2, the lack of an out and out striker to start the game showed in the first 45 minutes.

The Matildas dominated with 75 per cent of the ball for four shots, with only one going on target.

While the idea of using Mary Fowler and van Egmond in a front two seems good on paper, it did not quite work out in reality with a lack of shots inability to take advantage of the domination the Aussies created.

Gustavsson changed the formation in the second half with the introduction of Foord, but there was still no recognised striker and it was most noticeable in the 54th minute with van Egmond putting it over the bar from five yards out.

It would take until the 65th minute for Gustavsson to sub on striker Michelle Heyman for cap number 62, and her first since 2018.

Overall, the Matildas looked far better in the second half, finding the final pass and finishing the side sorely lacked in the first 45.

However, there were some standouts in the first 45 with the likes of Torpey and Carpenter performing well. 

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The return of Michelle Heyman

“For me, it’s looking at with Sam [Kerr] unavailable, Kyah’s [Simon] coming back from injury, [Holly] McNamara injured and so forth, we’re looking at who’s the best next nine, and the way Michelle [Heyman] has played, she deserves to be selected,” coach Tony Gustavsson said when selecting the squad.

Leading the golden boot race domestically with 12 goals, Heyman has been on fire this season, and exactly what the Matildas needed with Kerr’s injury.

It did not take long for Heyman to show exactly why she was selected, scoring the game’s opening goal in the 73rd minute and marking her return to international football in style.

The side also looked far better after the inclusion of Heyman, who as a clear number nine, was able to help elevate the Matildas attack.

After the game, Michelle Heyman said she was “so happy” speaking after the game on the television broadcast.

“It’s just so nice to be back with the girls, back playing for my country, and to come on and score a goal. It’s a dream come true.

“It’s what I wanted and I’m so happy to get it done.”

The equation for Melbourne

With Mary Fowler and Caitlin Foord adding to the scoreline, the equation for the Matildas home leg is as simple as saying just win.

But if the Matildas find themselves in a deficit at full-time in Melbourne, here are the situations.

If the Matildas lose by less than three goals in the 90 minutes, they are off to the Olympics.

If they are three goals down at the end of 90 minutes, the game will go to extra time and they must win, either in extra time or on penalties.

If they lose by four or more, the Matildas Olympic dream would be over.

But the conditions in Melbourne will favour the Australians, from a sold-out crowd to the significant heat expected in Victoria on Wednesday, and the Matildas will be hoping to wake up on Thursday morning with a ticket booked for the 2024 Olympic Games.

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