Michelle Heyman.
A Michelle Heyman goal has helped the Matildas to a 3-0 Olympic qualifying win in Uzbekistan. Image by James Ross/AAP PHOTOS
  • soccer

Heyman, Fowler steer Matildas to win over Uzbekistan

Anna Harrington February 24, 2024

Michelle Heyman has delighted in scoring 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 on Saturday.

Coach Tony Gustavsson turned to Canberra United star Heyman, 35, to replace Emily van Egmond off the bench in the 65th minute, and the veteran delivered just eight minutes later.

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.

“I am so happy,” Heyman said.

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

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

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.

“I didn’t know. That’s just wild,” she said.

It was a compelling audition for the 18-player Olympics squad.

“Really happy for her because I know how hard she has worked for such a long time,” Gustavsson said.

“And I also need to credit her for the energy she brings into the group when she comes in.

“She gives energy as the game changer even when she is not playing and then when she comes in, she does what she is here to do, scoring goals off the bench.”

It means Australia will head into Wednesday’s second leg at Melbourne’s Marvel Stadium with a crucial 3-0 lead in the tie, despite a wasteful and sometimes scratchy performance.

Debutant Kaitlyn Torpey started on the wing, wearing Kerr’s No.20 but was hooked for Foord, who was having her game time managed, at halftime.

Australia had 75 per cent of possession in the first half but lacked cohesion and had just four shots and one on target.

Van Egmond in particular had a horror night in attack, missing one sitter and failing to convert two other chances she would normally bury before being replaced by Heyman.

But after Heyman scored, the flood gates just about opened – and Australia ultimately finished with 26 shots (eight on target).

“It was a very mature performance. We didn’t panic and get frustrated from not scoring in the first half,” Gustavsson said.

“(But) we left way too many goals on the table. Our conversion rate must have been really bad. We could have scored, we left a lot of goals out there.

“That needs to be better on Wednesday.”

Heyman delivered the lead when she nodded a corner onto the bar, then followed 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.