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Match Report

Matildas earn comfortable 3-0 win over Uzbekistan

A dominant display by the Tillies bodes well for Olympic bound summer

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25 February 2024

Whilst Team GB will not be competing at the Olympic Game this summer, another nation chock full of players who either currently play in the WSL or have done in the recent past have at least one foot on the plane to Paris.

In Australia’s 3-0 win in freezing Tashkent over Uzbekistan on Saturday in the first leg of their final qualifying round tie for the Olympics, 15 players took to the pitch, 11 of whom will be well known to WSL fans.

It was a victory that, of course was achieved without yet another Australian WSL star, Chelsea striker Sam Kerr, who remains in the early stages of her recovery from ACL injury.

One player that was also a major concern ahead of this first leg was Steph Catley, who had to leave the pitch at a sold out Emirates Stadium last weekend for Arsenal against Manchester United with potential concussion.

Addressing the media the day before the match, Australia head coach Tony Gustavsson admitted his initial concerns: “She was one of those I was really worried about… Arsenal have done a good job taking care of her, and our medical team have done a good job taking care of her, and she’s looking good in training, so no issues there.”

The defender would start the match and play a hugely influential role. Indeed, just before the break, a trademark Catley free kick from 30 yards right of centre caused momentary chaos in the Uzbekistan box as Feruza Bobokhujaeva’s back header needed rapid action from goalkeeper Maftuna Jonimqulova.

Also in the days leading up to the match, Matildas goalkeeper and West Ham United captain Mackenzie Arnold spoke to the media about her incredible journey over the last 12 months at international level.

Arnold had always found it hard to establish herself as a starter for the national side, as she fell behind first Lydia Williams and then Teagan Micah in the pecking order. Then she was given a chance in last February’s Cup of Nations round-robin tournament which saw The Matildas take on Spain, Jamaica, and the Czech Republic and grabbed it with both hands. Those three games totally transformed Arnold’s trajectory and her thoughts on the impact of that tournament were telling.

“As a player I feel I’ve grown a lot, with my confidence. I believe that I belong now. I’ve been here for 10-plus years now, and it’s only in the last year or so I’ve really cemented my spot, so I’m confident now and feel like I belong.”

In Saturday’s first leg in Tashkent, Arnold was a spectator for the entire 90 minutes as Uzbekistan failed to muster a single shot on target, and gained just a single corner.

It was Australia’s other WSL stars who had the job of breaking through the massed ranks of Uzbekistan’s defensive play. In a repeat of all their previous games in the qualifying tournament so far, the Central Asian side sat off, instead filling the back third of the pitch with two defensive lines, a back one of four with three further players laid out immediately in front.

This played into the hands of one of the Matildas creative bundles of energy, Arsenal’s Kyra Cooney-Cross, who had time and space to attempt to launch attacking moves and she fed both Ellie Carpenter and former WSL attacker Hayley Raso on the right hand side.

Mary Fowler has been a hugely popular figure among Australian football fans since making her international debut at the age of 15 back in 2018. The Cairns native, who could also have played for the Republic of Ireland may not have had as much of the ball on Saturday as she may have liked, but when she did get it, the Manchester City star shone bright.

Her pace and close control skill were beyond the capability of Uzbekistan to handle. In stoppage time in the first half, Fowler drove forward through the centre, sucking in four defenders as she did so, earning a set-piece parallel to the penalty area. Early in the second half, she supplied a peach of a cross for former West Ham player Emily van Egmond.

Fowler grabbed Australia’s second goal on Saturday with a piece of magic. Receiving the ball directly from a poor clearance from Uzbekistan goalkeeper Maftuna Jonimqulova around 30 yards out, the Manchester City attacker used that deadly combination of pace and control to force her way through, leaving two defenders trailing in her wake before dispatching a low shot into the net from the edge of the area.

Goal number three was made and scored by WSL stars as well, with Catley sending over a glorious curler of a cross towards the back post where her Arsenal team mate Caitlin Foord timed her run to perfection to come through unseen to send a thumping header into the net.

Despite holding a 3-0 lead, Wednesday’s second leg will be played in front of a raucous sell-out crowd of 50,000 at Melbourne’s Marvel Stadium. The Matildas, a team packed full of WSL players are virtually assured of their place at the Olympic Games, and regardless of the availability of Sam Kerr, are confident that they can win a medal.

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