Sam Kerr's teammate in 'unfortunate' admission before crunch Matildas qualifier

The Matildas face Uzbekistan twice in five days for a shot at qualifying for the Paris Olympic Games.

These images show Matildas young gun Amy Sayer and inspirational captain Sam Kerr.
Matildas young gun Amy Sayer admits the injury to inspirational captain Sam Kerr has left a giant hole for the Aussies to fill. Pic: Getty

The Matildas know replacing Sam Kerr is almost an impossible task but forward Amy Sayer is backing the Aussies to book their spot at the Paris Olympic Games without their talismanic leader. The first leg of Australia's crunch Olympic qualifiers against Uzbekistan kicks off in Tashkent at 8pm on Saturday night (AEDT), in what will be the Matildas' first game since Kerr ruptured her ACL last month.

Kerr was ruled out for the rest of the season for English Super League champions Chelsea after suffering the injury during a warm weather training camp in Morocco in January. Coach Tony Gustavsson's side must beat Uzbekistan in a two-legged playoff in order to qualify for the Paris Games, with the second match taking place at Melbourne’s Marvel Stadium next Wednesday.

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Gustavsson has recalled 35-year-old Canberra United forward Michelle Heyman to the Matildas squad for the first time in six years, while Chloe Logarzo and Jada Whyman have also earned recalls and A-League Women transfer-fee record-breaker Kaitlyn Torpey has earned her first national team call-up as part of the 23-player Matildas squad.

Steph Catley will once again assume the captaincy for Australia, having done so superbly in Kerr's absence for the Matildas' group stage games at last year's World Cup. While Kerr eventually returned to help the Aussies reach the semi-finals for the first time in history, the skipper's infectious personality and leadership will be sadly missing this time around.

It leaves Gustavsson with the unenviable job of trying to figure out how to replace a player in Kerr that has proven to be irreplaceable. The Matildas have often struggled to create and finish chances when their superstar striker is absent and Sayer is among those players hoping to fill what she concedes is a "gaping hole".

The 22-year-old is not short on confidence though and says Gustavsson has made it clear what he expects of the Aussie players in the absence of their inspirational captain. "It’s really unfortunate that we’ve lost Sam,” Sayer said. “She’s one of the best players on the team and she is our captain, so that’s a big gaping hole that’s been left in her absence.

“But I think that the tactics of the team and the principles that have been laid down from the very beginning of Tony’s tenure have really helped us close that gap a little bit, and then it just comes to who can really fill Sam’s shoes.” Heyman's recall after retiring from international football five years ago gives the Matildas another option up front, while the likes of Caitlin Foord, Mary Fowler and Emily van Egmond have also spent time centrally when Kerr is not playing.

Seen here, Amy Sayer in action for the Matildas in an Olympic Games qualifying match against Iran.
Amy Sayer is seen here in action for the Matildas in an Olympic Games qualifying match against Iran. Pic: Getty

Amy Sayer puts hand up to play Sam Kerr role

Sayer has impressed when given opportunities and says while it is impossible to compare herself to one of the world's best strikers in Kerr, the 22-year-old insists she shares similar characteristics that can benefit the national side. “Without Sam on the team, I know that I play a similar position, and in the past I have been the substitute for her, in that No.9 or No.10 attacking midfield role,” she said.

“I’m not trying to fill her shoes exactly, because she is that special player, but I think I have similar qualities – and some different ones as well – that can help provide a benefit to the team.” The Matildas' preparations for Saturday night's game meant they flew in from training camp in Dubai to Tashkent on Friday night. Following the first leg match, the Aussies will then depart for Melbourne on Saturday night, mere hours after the game.

Acting captain Catley described both matches against Uzbekistan as "must-wins" and said the Matildas won't think about the Olympic Games until they get the job done in qualifying. Gustavsson was tight-lipped about the make-up of his starting side but promised they would remain true to Australia's principles.

“We have a tremendous amount of respect for the opposition but we’re going to bring our game and show who we are as a team,” the Matildas coach said. "We’re always going to be a pressing team, (and) we’re going to be a high-octane energy team that likes to attack with numbers.”

with AAP

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