Sam Kerr and Mary Fowler have come off the bench to help inspire the Matildas to a hard-fought and crucial 2-0 victory over Iran in their Olympic Games qualifying game in Perth on Thursday night. While the result looks on first glance like being a comfortable one for the Matildas, the reality was anything but as the introduction of Australia's dynamic duo in the second half wrapped up the result late in the game.
Watched by 18,798 fans at Perth's HBF Park in their first game on home soil since the remarkable run to the World Cup semi-finals, the Matildas were expected to beat Iran comfortably. That may have looked to be the case when Ellie Carpenter opened the scoring for the home side in the 19th minute, but the Matildas had to wait until late in the contest to wrap up the three points after a trademark strike from Kerr.
''IT'S EVERYWHERE': Ellie Carpenter spills on 'vile' Matildas backlash
'VERY HARD': Postecoglou's brutal truth bomb after Matildas mania
Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson warned that he would be managing some of his biggest stars, with Kerr, Fowler and Matildas vice-captain Steph Catley all starting off the bench. Following a tense second half in which an Iran equaliser could have provided a dagger blow to the Aussies, Gustavsson brought on his superstar trio of players to big effect.
Fowler was particularly impressive as her deft touches, pinpoint passes and piercing runs caused numerous headaches for Iran's defence. It was the young Aussie star's one-two with Catley that ultimately unlocked the gutsy Iranian rearguard and provided the service for Kerr to score the relieving second goal.
Imagine being an Iranian defender. You’ve slogged it out for more than an hour, given up just one goal, tried every trick in the book to ice the clock, and now you’ve got a fresh Sam Kerr, Steph Catley, and Mary Fowler to deal with. Brutal. Oh well. #AUSvIRN
— Steve Smith (@stevesmithffx) October 26, 2023
1-0 down and you see Steph catley, Sam Kerr, and Mary fowler coming on the pitch??? I’d just take my boots off and leave there and then x
— Gracie (@graciewoso) October 26, 2023
unbelievable class from Mary Fowler on that ball through to Kerr
— Mia (@march_mia15) October 26, 2023
Matildas coach full of praise for Mary Fowler
Gustavsson revealed after the match that his role for the "mind-blowingly good" Fowler was inspired by how English club giant Manchester City has been using the 20-year-old. "They've used Mary Fowler as a wide forward this season, and she has been outstanding in the league," Gustavsson said.
"We said, 'let's try her in our environment as well' and Mary's performance in those minutes on the left side was just mind-blowingly good. "I think she was our best, which means we have another tool now in the wide areas, which is perfect for us."
Fowler enjoyed a break-out World Cup campaign, and it seems the sky's the limit for the speedy forward. Gustavsson was quick to play down expectations though and made a point of trying to take the pressure off his talismanic young forward.
"She shouldn't be the one that has to carry this team or take responsibility in that sense," Gustavsson added. "She should be this young player that is the spark and can just do her thing. Some of the experienced players can carry the pressure."
Matildas rest key players ahead of next game
Goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold, Katrina Gorry, Caitlin Foord and Hayley Raso were among the stars who weren't used against Iran, perhaps with one eye on Australia's next match.
The Matildas enjoyed 82 per cent possession in the first half, with Cortnee Vine's determined run down the right side setting up the opener. Vine's cross made its way to Charlotte Grant, who passed it off to Carpenter to rifle the ball home for just her fourth goal in 70 appearances for Australia.
Local hero Kerr received a rousing reception when she was brought on in the 65th minute and had a glorious chance to get on the scoresheet less than 10 minutes later when she lashed a shot over the crossbar. The Matildas captain made no mistake moments later to put the result beyond doubt.
The earlier match in Australia's Olympic qualifying group saw the Philippines come from a goal down to thrash Taiwan 4-1 and go to the top of the group standings. That result makes the Matildas' next match against the Philippines at a sold-out Optus Stadium on Sunday even more vital.
Australia needs to finish on top of the group to guarantee passage through to the final phase of Olympic qualifying in February. The Matildas return to HBF Park to face Taiwan next Wednesday.
Sign up to our newsletter and score the biggest sport stories of the week.