Matildas fans in frenzy over Cathy Freeman appearance after Olympics qualification

The Australian legend made her way onto the field after the Matildas blitzed Uzbekistan.

Cathy Freeman with Matildas players Mary Fowler and Steph Catley.
Cathy Freeman celebrated with the Matildas after they qualified for the Paris Olympics. Image: Getty

Cathy Freeman was on hand to celebrate with the Matildas on Wednesday night after the Aussies punched their ticket to the Paris Olympics. Michell Heyman scored four goals at Marvel Stadium in Melbourne as the Matildas beat Uzbekistan 10-0 (and 13-0 on aggregate) to secure their place at the Olympics in July.

One very special spectator at the game was Indigenous Olympics legend Freeman, who shares a special bond with the Matildas. The 51-year-old, who won an iconic gold medal in the 400m at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, visited the Matildas during the World Cup in Australia last year and delivered a spine-tingling speech to the players.

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She was in attendance with her daughter on Wednesday night and went onto the field after the full-time whistle to congratulate the players. She posed for photos with Matildas captain Steph Catley and superstar attacker Mary Fowler, with fans delighted to see the Aussie legend in a somewhat rare appearance.

Freeman could be seen using a walking stick after an accident at her home last year left her needing surgery. She ruptured her Achilles tendon and has been on the mend ever since.

Cathy Freeman.
Cathy Freeman has been using a walking stick after rupturing her Achilles tendon last year.
Cathy Freeman.
Cathy Freeman celebrates the Matildas' qualification for the Paris Olympics.

Freeman was invited into the Matildas' camp before their first match at the World Cup, in which they became the first Australian team (male or female) to make it as far as the semi-finals. She told the players: “The power of you just being here is unimaginable. It’s beyond your wildest dreams what you’re going to be able to do.

“You’re going to be able to get into the blood of everybody who is on the journey with you. It’s just a crazy, wild ride. You’re writing your name in history, ladies. And you should be really proud of that.”

Sam Kerr told Freeman at the time: “You’re an inspiration to the whole team. You’ve been an idol for all of us for so long. What you did for us as a country, hopefully we can replicate even half of that. We’ll remember this night for the rest of our careers. It’s been amazing.”

Mary Fowler and Cathy Freeman.
Mary Fowler hugs Cathy Freeman after the Matildas' win over Uzbekistan.

Matildas defender Aivi Luik said about Freeman's visit: “A lot of girls were very emotional. I still can’t believe that happened because a couple years ago, we were going through some questions about who your sporting hero is and why, and over half the team said that Cathy Freeman was their hero.

“The staff, because of that, tried to get her in, and bless her heart, she came in. She doesn’t do a lot of public speaking but she did that for us. We asked her questions informally and she spoke back to us just like she was a friend, and we got a lot of good insight from that.”

Matildas crush Uzbekistan to qualify for Paris Olympics

The Matildas headed into Wednesday night's game with a 3-0 advantage following their win in Uzbekistan in the first leg. And any thoughts that the opposition could mount a comeback were put to bed straight away, with Heyman scoring a first-half hat-trick and the Matildas blowing Uzbekistan off the park.

Caitlin Foord, Kaitlyn Torpey, Mary Fowler, Hayley Raso and Amy Sayer also found the back of the net to show the Matildas have plenty of attacking weapons in the absence of Kerr. The superstar striker is little chance of recovering in time for the Olympics after rupturing her ACL.

"You could sense the focus in the group when the game started today," coach Tony Gustavsson said. "They were on a mission.

"Very good training session yesterday and then I know for a fact that these players feed off of the energy in the stands as well and that was massive tonight. You can see we've come out flying from from minute one."

Gustavsson is now facing the tricky task of trimming his squad from 22 to 18 for the Olympics. But Heyman's display in her first start for Australia since 2018 has gone a long way to securing her spot.

"The job description for me as a forward is to just get in the box and score goals," she said. "And that's all I wanted to do was get out there and try and be in the best position every single time that ball got crossed in, to make sure I was there to finish."

with AAP

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