Michelle Heyman hits four as Matildas thrash Uzbekistan 10-0 to reach Paris Olympics

<span>Michelle Heyman scored four goals, including a 15-minute hat-trick in the Matildas’ convincing win over Uzbekistan in Olympic qualifying.</span><span>Photograph: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images</span>
Michelle Heyman scored four goals, including a 15-minute hat-trick in the Matildas’ convincing win over Uzbekistan in Olympic qualifying.Photograph: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

How total was the Matildas’ dominance of Uzbekistan in the second leg of their Olympic qualifier, a 10-0 victory that saw them cruise to a 13-0 aggregate win and punch their tickets to Paris 2024? As his players stayed limber in the 31st minute, already up 5-0, there was a legitimate question as to whether coach Tony Gustavsson would make a series of changes before the first half concluded in an act of load management.

Wednesday’s game shaped as something of a procession for the hosts after a 3-0 aggregate lead had been established from the first leg in Tashkent four days ago. With that in mind, there was a party atmosphere before kick-off and the Matildas, who have transcended the traditional bounds of sport to become a cultural touchstone, were allowed an opportunity to celebrate another moment with a 12th consecutive home sellout crowd, including the great Cathy Freeman in the stands.

Related: Matildas 10-0 Uzbekistan: Paris Olympics qualifier, second leg – as it happened

Gustavsson had said his side would play their part in the occasion by rectifying the lack of clinical finishing that dogged the opening 73 minutes of last Saturday’s first leg. Attack was to be the name of the game, the Swede declared, and it took all of 34 seconds for the Uzbek defence to be breached: Dilrabo Asadova getting a taste of the torrent to come when she inadvertently redirected a Kaitlyn Torpey cutback back into her own net.

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

Michelle Heyman had been the one responsible for forcing the turnover of possession that led to the opener and, it’s safe to say, she was far from done. It was a perfect start for a player making her first start in green and gold since the 2018 Algarve Cup – a handy 2,183 days.

Captured by television cameras with an irrepressible beam on her face just before kick-off, she then marked her return with an 11-minute hat-trick in the exchanges that followed – pouncing on Torpey’s quick move to direct a Mary Fowler delivery back across the face of goal in the fourth minute, reacting and steering home a Steph Catley cross that beat the head of Caitlin Foord in the eighth, and beating her defender to a low Fowler ball in the 16th.

Brought into the squad to provide a pure No 9 in the wake of Sam Kerr’s ACL injury, Heyman’s first-half display showed all the instincts of an international striker. None of her goals were of a highlight standard, but all called upon quick reactions, smart positioning and a nose for goal that, for the most part, cannot be taught. And with the team’s ticket to Paris now punched, the 35-year-old did everything possible to advance her own individual case. A fourth goal with her last involvement of the game came in first-half stoppage time, again reacting to a cutback from Torpey, putting an exclamation mark on things.

“The job description for me as a forward is to just get in the box and score goals,” said Heyman. “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.”

Perhaps the only problem for Heyman, as well as Torpey – who scored a goal of her own in the 22nd minute to go with two assists – is that the gulf in talent between the two nations could potentially limit Gustavsson’s takeaways from the game. With Fowler, Hayley Raso and Amy Sayer also scoring, just how much carryover will this performance have against the likes of Japan or Spain? What can you learn from such a thrashing? Then again, Gustavsson opted to add Emily van Egmond, Tameka Yallop, and Raso at half-time alongside Sayer – as opposed to giving a run to younger or more inexperienced players – suggesting he had put some value in the game.

“If you look at Heyman’s finishing here, that is not just because the opposition is what it is,” said Gustavsson. “That’s because she is such a good finisher.”

Ultimately, Wednesday at least assured that Heyman and Torpey will have more international windows to press their case, starting in April against Mexico. And now, officially, they can target Paris.