Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson has named the 23-player squad which will aim to defeat Uzbekistan over two legs and send the side to the Paris Olympics.
With injuries to Sam Kerr, Lydia Williams, and Charlie Rule, there have been four changes made from the October 2023 qualifiers squad.
Michelle Heyman, who recently became the first player to score 100 A-League Women goals and is currently on top of the A-League Women Golden Boot standings with 10 goals, makes her return to the international stage for the first time in six years.
“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.
He also said that it is not about age when it comes to selection, but it is about the quality of the footballer, saying that Heyman played herself into this team.
“She’s in tremendous form, she’s scoring for fun, and we also feel playing this type of qualifiers when we think we’re going to play against a very well organised Uzbekistan, it’s going to be difficult to get in behind.
“We need an in and out pure nine in the box that needs half a chance to score, and that’s Michelle [in the] form she’s playing with right now.
“I’m really happy for her because she has pushed herself back into this team by her performances.”
Chloe Logarzo and Jada Whyman also return to the squad, while Kaitlyn Torpey will make her first senior Matildas squad.
Torpey’s inclusion comes on the back of some strong performances for Melbourne City in the A-League Women and for the U23 national team, which earned her a transfer to NWSL side San Diego Wave.
Gustavsson emphasised the importance of the U23 side and how it helps the senior Matildas side, and also gave credit to the coaches in the A-League Women competition for their development of players.
“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.”
The coach also said it led to one of the tough phone calls he had to make, telling Courtney Nevin that she was not selected.
He said that one of the reasons is that Torpey deserved to get this opportunity the way she has performed.
“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.”
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When it came to selecting the squad, Gustavsson described it as a challenge.
“Selecting this squad has been a challenge with a lot of moving parts; from injuries to some players and reduction of competitive match minutes for other players due to off-seasons,” he said.
“The challenge has also created opportunity with consistent performers provided an opening to be contributors during a vital set of Olympic Qualifiers.
“We have been evaluating players consistently in recent months and our goal has been to find the balance between the most in-form and those who will work well in terms of on pitch connections and chemistry.”
Having last competed against the last Olympic gold medal winners Canada in a two-match friendly series in November, Gustavsson said the side is itching to come together.
“After a significant 2023 and well-earned break, we are itching to come together with a clear focus and mission in front of us as we look to complete the first phase of our Olympic journey.
“We appreciate the task ahead of us. Uzbekistan is equally motivated to create their own nation’s history and will be a well-prepared opponent.”
After being initially left out of the two game series against Canada, before coming back into the squad after there were injuries, Alex Chidiac has once again not been selected.
In November, Gustavsson put her exclusion down to “performances in the last camp and the limited minutes she’s had in clubland.”
Since then she has signed with Melbourne Victory and played 456 minutes in six games, including three 90-minute performances.
“That was one of the toughest phone calls to be honest,” Gustavsson said about her exclusion from this squad.
“What I did say to Chids [Alex Chidiac] though is that I’m really happy that she’s in a club now that values her qualities and she gets to a play in a pure 10 role, a linking player in a playing style that suits her.
“She’s just come back to play minutes. She didn’t really get the minutes when she was abroad and it’s for her to find back the joy and the love for the game again and just play the way Chids can play.”
Gustavsson then said that the national team staff are still going to monitor her, saying he’ll be happy to keep an eye on her performances moving forward.
The 23-player squad
Goalkeepers: Mackenzie Arnold, Tegan Micah, and Jada Whyman
Backs: Ellie Carpenter, Steph Catley (C), Charlotte Grant, Clare Hunt, Alanna Kennedy, Aivi Luik, Clare Polkinghorne, and Kaitlyn Torpey
Midfielders: Kyra Cooney-Cross, Mary Fowler, Katrina Gorry, Chloe Logarzo, Amy Sayer, Emily van Egmond, Clare Wheeler, and Tameka Yallop
Forwards: Caitlin Foord, Michelle Heyman, Hayley Raso, and Cortnee Vine