Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson has replaced star striker Sam Kerr with a football veteran for Australia's must-win Olympic Games qualifier. On Tuesday, the Matildas coach named a 23-player squad for this month’s two-legged, home-and-away Paris Olympics qualifier against Uzbekistan.
Kerr recently underwent surgery after tearing her ACL during a training camp with English club team Chelsea, and her chances of playing at the Olympics in July are next to none. The Chelsea forward was one of three Matildas players ruled out of the upcoming two matches, alongside goalkeeper Lydia Williams (ankle) and defender Charlie Rule (hip).
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In search of a strike option to replace Kerr, the Swedish coach has turned to 35-year-old Canberra United forward Michelle Heyman. The Aussie veteran has not played for the Matildas for six years and even retired from international football in 2019, but with Kerr out she has been called into the side. The natural goalscorer is the first woman in A-League history to score 100 league goals.
Western United's Chloe Logarzo has also been recalled to the squad as has Sydney's Jada Whyman. A-League Women transfer-fee record-breaker Kaitlyn Torpey has also earned her first national team call-up for the upcoming double-header.
Gustavsson says Kerr is irreplaceable but sees Heyman as the right fit to lead the Matildas team to the Olympics. "With the way Michelle has played (for Canberra), she deserves to be selected – it’s purely on performance," Gustavvson said.
"For me, it's not about age in a Matilda, it’s about the quality you have as a footballer. Whether you’re 17 or 35, it doesn’t matter. If you have the quality, you deserve to be selected and Heyman has played herself into this team.”
"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. There’s been a lot of players fighting for spots here and a lot of players performing, so we tried to look at a combination of continuity and connections, people that know the way we play, that know each other, that’s been with us for a while. We also look at the form and playing time."
The Matildas will first face Uzbekistan in Tashkent on Saturday, February 24 (8pm AEDT). They will then host the Asian nation in Melbourne on Wednesday, February 28 (8pm AEDT) in the return leg.
Tony Gustavsson turns to Ange Postecoglou for inspiration
Ahead of the Olympic qualifier, Gustavsson revealed he has turned to Tottenham manager Ange Postecoglou for inspiration as he tries to guide the Matildas to a win over Uzbekistan. The Matildas coach is due to visit the former Socceroos coach in London and is excited to "learn, interact and get inspired" by the Spurs manager.
"Sometimes as a coach, it’s almost like a personal development trip as well to get some inspiration and insights, and Ange knows everything about the Australian landscape," Gustavsson said. "He's had a phenomenal journey, and what he’s done with Spurs in terms of playing style, an identity and confidence from being a club and a team lacking confidence … is just tremendously impressive.
"We have been invited to watch training and then have lunch with him, so I hope to get some experience from him and learn, interact and get inspired, and hopefully also watch a couple of things in training that they do that I can pick up.
"Sometimes it’s just going out there and getting some inspiration, and whether it’s about leadership or training content or hearing Ange’s experience about the journey in Australian football – I’m really looking forward to that."
Matildas squad: Mackenzie Arnold (West Ham), Ellie Carpenter (Olympique Lyon), Steph Catley (c) (Arsenal), Kyra Cooney-Cross (Arsenal), Caitlin Foord (Arsenal), Mary Fowler (Manchester City), Katrina Gorry (West Ham), Charlotte Grant (Tottenham), Michelle Heyman (Canberra United), Clare Hunt (Paris Saint-Germain), Alanna Kennedy (Manchester City), Chloe Logarzo (Western United), Aivi Luik (BK Häcken), Teagan Micah (Liverpool), Clare Polkinghorne (Kristianstads DFF), Hayley Raso (Real Madrid), Amy Sayer (Kristianstads DFF), Kaitlyn Torpey (San Diego Wave), Emily van Egmond (San Diego Wave), Cortnee Vine (Sydney FC), Clare Wheeler (Everton), Jada Whyman (Sydney FC), Tameka Yallop (Brisbane Roar).
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