Matildas lift lid on plans for Melbourne return

Matildas to return to Australia to play

Spurred by recent near misses, the Matildas have a breakthrough medal firmly in their sights after locking in the venue for their final Paris Olympics qualifier.

Australia will take on Uzbekistan in a two-legged play-off in February to determine which of them will be among Asia’s two representatives in the 12-team Olympics tournament.

Football Australia on Monday confirmed the home tie will be played at Melbourne’s Marvel Stadium on February 28, four days after the away leg in Uzbekistan.

A sell-out crowd of more than 50,000 is expected for the Matildas’ first appearance in the Victorian capital since a 4-0 World Cup thrashing of reigning Olympic champions Canada in July.

Australia were comfortable 10-0 winners when they last faced Uzbekistan, in 2007, and are heavy favourites to progress to a third-straight Olympics.

If, as expected, they qualify for Paris, the Matildas are hopeful of going one better than at the Tokyo Olympics and this year’s World Cup.

Both major tournaments ended in heartbreaking third-place play-off defeats, to the US and Sweden respectively.

“We’re so close,” Matildas goalkeeper Lydia Williams said.

“We have a taste of it. It’s almost like you smell the aroma in the air and you definitely want to know what that actually feels like.

“We are really close and it’s just about the final game, the final push.

“Having that experience of what it is to not reach that, I think that’s just going to spur us on to want to get to that point.”

Traditional powerhouse Sweden, which beat Australia in a semi-final at the Tokyo Games, has failed to qualify for the Olympics for the first time.

Fellow heavyweight Great Britain has also missed out, and their absences could open the door for the Matildas in Paris.

“Football’s a funny game, you never know who’s going to come through,” Williams said.

“No one had really heard of Colombia and they surprised everyone at the World Cup [where they reached the quarterfinals].

“Anything can happen in the game of football and we just have to make sure that we prepare the best way possible.

“It’s really going to be a lockdown focus in the next seven months.”

Williams is hopeful a sell-out crowd in Melbourne will help lift the Matildas over the line against Uzbekistan.

“We felt that definitely in that [World Cup] game against Canada and that’s what we thrive on,” Williams said.

“The crowd is our 12th person and they spur us along. We want to do them and the nation proud.”

Tickets for the Marvel Stadium match against Uzbekistan go on sale on Wednesday.


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