Matildas veteran Michelle Heyman answers Sam Kerr question in stunning return

The Matildas took a giant step towards qualifying for the the Olympic Games on Saturday night.

Michelle Heyman scored a crucial goal for the Matildas after making her return to the national side. Pic: Getty
Michelle Heyman scored a crucial goal for the Matildas after making her return to the national side. Pic: Getty

Michelle Heyman has marked her first game for the Matildas in six years with a crucial goal in Australia's 3-0 victory over Uzbekistan on Saturday night. Playing without their inspirational captain Sam Kerr, the Matildas took a giant step towards qualifying for the Paris Olympic Games, with the result setting them up for Wednesday night's deciding second leg against Uzbekistan at Melbourne's Marvel Stadium.

The Matildas were playing their first match since Kerr tore her ACL in January and the big question was how the Aussies would fare without their talismanic leader. For more than an hour Tony Gustavsson's players toiled without reward at Milliy Stadium in Tashkent, but the introduction of Heyman soon turned the complexion of the contest.

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Gustavsson turned to the 35-year-old striker to replace Emily van Egmond in the 65th minute and the veteran delivered just eight minutes later. Mary Fowler capped off a fine second half display with a sublime individual goal in the 84th minute, while Caitlin Foord completed the scoring with a header in the 86th minute to give the Matildas breathing room ahead of the second leg.

Michelle Heyman in 'fairytale' return for Matildas

"I am so happy," Heyman said after netting her first goal in national colours for almost eight years. "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's headed opener marked her 21st goal for Australia and first since netting twice against Zimbabwe at the Rio Olympics in 2016. "I didn't know. That's just wild," she admitted after the match as fans hailed Heyman's stunning return.

"Really happy for her because I know how hard she has worked for such a long time," Gustavsson said about Heyman, whose stunning cameo proved a timely audition to be part of Australia's 18-player Olympics squad. "And I also need to credit her for the energy she brings into the group when she comes in," the Matildas coach added.

"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." The result leaves the Aussies in a strong position to qualify for the Paris Games going into Wednesday night's second leg in Melbourne, despite a wasteful and sometimes scratchy performance in Tashkent.

Aussies find scoring groove in second half

Debutant Kaitlyn Torpey started on the wing, wearing Kerr's No.20 jersey but was hooked at halftime for Foord, who was having her game time managed. Australia had 75 per cent of the ball in the first half but lacked cohesion and had just four shots and one on target to show for their dominance.

Van Egmond had a horror night in attack, missing one sitter and failing to convert two other chances she would normally bury, before she was replaced by Heyman. The veteran's second half goal sparked the Matildas into action and they finished with 26 shots, with eight on target.

Seen here, Matildas players celebrate during their 3-0 win over Uzbekistan.
Matildas players celebrate during their 3-0 win over Uzbekistan. Pic: Getty

Heyman delivered the lead when she nodded a corner onto the bar, then followed up with a second header. Moments later, Fowler intercepted a clearance with a brilliant first touch, weaved between several defenders and blasted a long-range strike inside the near post. Matildas' stand-in skipper Steph Catley then found Foord in space to turn and lash home to seal the result for the Aussies late on.

"We didn't panic and get frustrated from not scoring in the first half," Gustavsson said after the match. "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."

with AAP

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