13/04/2024

The Matildas in action during their away leg against Uzbekistan in Tashkent. Photo Credit: Football Australia

After a 3-0 victory in Tashkent, the Matildas would come back to Melbourne in excellent shape to qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics in the second leg of their two-match series against Uzbekistan.

It would not take long for the Matildas to stamp their authority on the game, taking the lead inside the first minute en route to a 10-0 victory on Wednesday night to qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

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

Was there ever any doubt?

If there was, those concerns were squashed very quickly as it only took the Matildas 40 seconds to get the games opening goal to make it 4-0 on aggregate, with Michelle Heyman making it 2-0 in the fourth minute (5-0 on aggregate), and 3-0 in the eighth minute (6-0 on aggregate).

By half-time it was 8-0 and the question was starting to become how many goals would the Matildas score?

The answer was only two more, which would be scored by Hayley Raso (68th minute) and Amy Sayer deep into second half stoppage time, making the final score 10-0 (13-0 on aggregate).

It marked one of the more dominant performances in recent memory for the Aussies, and put the side well on the path to Paris to the delight of all 54120 in attendance, marking the 12th straight sell-out on home soil for the Matildas.

Has Michelle Heyman sealed a spot on the flight to France?

With a hat-trick just 16 minutes into the game and a fourth in first half stoppage time to go with her sole goal from the first leg, Michelle Heyman marked her return to international football with a bang.

In a world without Sam Kerr being able to head to Paris, has Tony Gustavsson found the answer to his striking problem?

Gustavsson tried several options in the first leg, which included a rotating cast of number nine’s with Mary Fowler, Emily van Egmond, Kaitlyn Torpey, and Hayley Raso all taking a turn up front before Heyman came on.

The problem was none of them operated as a traditional striker and operated more as a mix of a false-nine or a 10, which presents a problem as we saw in the first leg.

If there is not a pure striker to create chances and be in the right places, who is going to score the goals?

While the squad for Paris is limited to only 18 places and versatility is going to be key to create a sense of depth within the small squad, not taking an out and out striker would be criminal.

There is still plenty of time between now and the Paris Olympics with three international windows remaining, and a game already locked in against Mexico, who just beat the USA 2-0.

It gives Gustavsson time to make some changes and test out different options and combinations, but given some of the struggles the side has had, a proven goal scorer is a luxury he can not do without.

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Kaitlyn Torpey’s versatility makes her selection a no-brainer

When announcing his selections for the 23 player squad, Gustavsson spoke glowingly about Torpey and why he included her.

“We’ve kept an eye on her [Torpey] for a long time, but her improvement in performances over the last year, especially when she came back from this injury last year has been phenomenal.

“She has a profile as a player that is intriguing for the way we play. She has the speed with technique. She can play the seven [or] 11 for us out wide, she can play as an attacking outside back for us.

“She’s confident on the ball, she’s aggressive, [and] she has speed.

”Her next step is to see if she can bring that to international level because everything is going to be faster now, but we’re intrigued by her performances [and] the very interesting profile of her as a player.”

She played the opening half in the first leg in a hybrid role, starting on the left-hand side before interchanging with Raso who started on the right, as well as floating into a more advanced role up the pitch.

For Melbourne City she has been utilised in a number of different positions depending on the tactics Dario Vidosic has employed in each game, while she scored nine goals in nine games for Preston Lions during the NPL Victoria Women’s 2023 season.

Despite the amount of time Torpey seems to spend in the midfield and up front, she is also a great defender, making her skill set almost invaluable for Gustavsson going forward.

While the capacity in which San Diego Wave utilise her talents is unclear yet, one thing is clear.

Her versatility will allow the Wave to use her wherever they require her, in a move which can only enhance her Olympics hopes.

Tony Gustavsson has a major headache

It does not take a mathematician to tell you that 22 does not go into 18, and that is how many spots Gustavsson has available in his squad for the Paris Olympics.

While different various factors will play into the decision he has to make, such as form, injuries, and minutes played, there are going to be some very unlucky names to miss out on selection.

The other major factor is going to be picking the squad that will fit into what he wants to do tactically which might be impacted by the draw and a potential path to a deep run.

Knowing he has limited choices will mean some tough calls, and versatility will play a key.

Most of his squad selections (pending injuries) are automatic, with the likes of Mackenzie Arnold, Ellie Carpenter, Steph Catley, Mary Fowler, Kyra Cooney-Cross and Clare Hunt to name a few basically pencilled in for a spot at the Olympics.

Where the tough decisions will come is in the final few spots of his squad.

He described telling Courtney Nevin that she was not selected for this current window as one of the toughest calls he had to make, and he might have some tougher calls on the horizon when the time comes to select the squad.

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