Mary Fowler scored an absolute wonder-goal on Wednesday night as the Matildas went one step closer to qualifying for the Paris Olympics in a 3-0 win over Chinese Taipei. With new boyfriend Nathan Cleary watching on from the stands, Fowler opened the scoring in the 62nd minute with a thunderous strike from outside the box.
Fowler trapped a floated pass on the edge of the area and took one more touch before unleashing a powerful strike from 20 metres out to send the massive crowd into raptures. Among those in attendance was Penrith Panthers star Cleary, who recently started dating Fowler.
Hometown hero Sam Kerr then scored from point-blank range six minutes later to keep the ball rolling, before substitute Tameka Yallop sealed the deal in the 76th minute with the Matildas' third. "I think in those moments, you're not really thinking too much," Fowler said of her wonder strike.
"You're just doing them off instinct and trying them out. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't. I had a few chances in the first half and that one in the second half went in."
The victory means the Matildas finished on top of Group A with a perfect nine points from nine and a goal difference of plus-13. They will now take on World No.50 Uzbekistan in a two-leg playoff in February for a place at the 2024 Olympics in Paris.
Uzbekistan will host the first game on February 24, with Australia to host the second game at a yet-to-be-decided venue on February 28. Japan and North Korea will battle it out for the only other available Olympic spot in the Asian Confederation.
Fresh off an 8-0 demolition of the Philippines last weekend, the Matildas unleashed a near full-strength starting XI against Chinese Taipei featuring Fowler, Kerr, Caitlin Foord, Mackenzie Arnold and Steph Catley. Kerr's goal was her fifth across the three qualifying matches, and also marked the 900th goal in Matildas history.
Hail MARY!!! What a superstar!!! 🙏🙏🙏
— Lorin Heah (@lorinheah) November 1, 2023
Brilliant from Mary 👏👏👏❤️❤️❤️
Nathan Cleary is happy too ❤️
— RatFinky (@de32344) November 1, 2023
Magnificent Mary 👏 👏 👏
— Aaron ⚓🏀 ⚾️ 🏈 (@bowling23) November 1, 2023
— Lachlan McKirdy (@LMcKirdy7) November 1, 2023
— Daniel Phimphisane (@DPhimphisane) November 1, 2023
that goal and the crowds reaction was insane 🙌🙌🙌 exactly what everyone had been waiting for
— Kiki 🇵🇸 (@wilhe1msimon) November 1, 2023
What an amazing goal, Mary! That was something special and that performance tonite 👏 keep it up, girl! What a breakthrough after frustrating first half so many chances blocked by such on fire goalie too!
— Alfred Ismanto (@AlfredIsmanto) November 1, 2023
Matildas to face Uzbekistan for place at 2024 Olympics
In the end the Aussies cruised through the second round of Olympic qualifying, beating Iran 2-0, the Philippines 8-0, and Chinese Taipei 3-0. Coach Tony Gustavsson gave game time to 22 players in Perth, but will have to whittle his squad down to 18 if they qualify for the Paris Games - with three others to be named as alternates.
"I'm happy with the development of players and development of the team, but I'm not happy when I think about potentially announcing the roster for the Olympics, because that's going to be a very, very tough job," Gustavsson said on Wednesday night. "Considering how well this team is performing right now, it's going to be a very small chance to break into this team for people outside of it. That doesn't mean you can't come in but it's going to be difficult because we're performing very well."
The Matildas scored 13 goals in the three games, but Gustavsson was more impressed by the zero they conceded. "Three clean sheets may be what I'm most happy about," he said. "When I came on board three years ago, everyone talked about this being a leaky defence and we needed to fix things.
"And these were three teams that parked the bus in transition, and you can be vulnerable in that. But we were clinical in our regains to win the ball back to stop the transition.
"We've kept 13 clean sheets over the last year now. And attacking-wise, I'm happy that we show more variation against the parked bus. There's more combination play, there's much more variation in this camp than before."
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