Fowler stars as Matildas claim stylish Olympic-qualifying win over Taiwan

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Mary Fowler took three touches on the move. The first with the inside of her left boot, the second with the outside of her right. The third was the shot. A blinding, arcing ball carrying 62 minutes of frustration and bulging the back of the net’s far corner.

The big screen showed Fowler, arms outstretched to her side, waiting for an ecstatic Caitlin Foord to run into them. The camera then cut away to the HBF Park stands and Nathan Cleary’s face, which looked just as happy as hers.

Mary Fowler takes a shot a goal during the Olympic qualifier match between Australia and Taiwan.Credit: Getty Images

This had already happened once, just as the Matildas and Taiwan were returning to the field for the second half. As the crowd cheered, Fowler had smiled with the slight embarrassment that no doubt comes with having your private life plastered all over Perth. A footballer putting an NRL player on the map.

The camera had been searching for that face all night, even though it should not have been the story. The story should have been that the Matildas were swiftly heading towards a nil-nil draw with a country ranked 27 places below them, in their last match on home soil in 2023.

That over the past week, they had beaten Iran 2-0 and cleaned up the Philippines 8-0, then pledged to score as many as possible on Wednesday night to ensure the best possible scenario come February’s Olympic qualifying play-offs.

Except that Taiwan, defending deeply and desperately, collectively resembled a ball machine, spitting every Matildas attack back out at them and forcing them to come again.

Sam Kerr leaps up for a header during the Matildas’ clash against Taiwan.Credit: Getty Images

During the first half, a Fowler shot had found the underside of the crossbar. Another flew well over the crossbar. Kyra Cooney-Cross sent hers over too. Katrina Gorry whipped one straight at goalkeeper Cheng Ssu-yu. Sam Kerr’s head rose repeatedly, either skewing an overcooked ball high or not making contact.

Foord, fresh from her hat-trick and four assists against the Philippines, performed one of those magic turns at the top of the box and drew a diving save from Cheng, who was close to player of the match for one of the more outstanding shifts between the posts from any shot-stopper anywhere.

Tameka Yallop celebrates after scoring a goal against Taiwan.Credit: Getty Images

She might even have been named player of the match if not for Fowler, whose swooping drive from deep shocked Australia out of the near-misses and turned them into goals.

The 20-year-old’s precocious talent has been paranormal this international window, her game reaching a new level thanks to some well-deserved game time at Manchester City off the back of an impressive World Cup.

Six minutes later, Sam Kerr made the scoreline 2-0, pouncing on a ricochet from some Foord handiwork and poking home the Matildas’ 900th goal in history. That was the 68th minute. By the 76th Tameka Yallop had killed off the game, burying a ball from fellow substitute Amy Sayer. Foord was, once again, involved. At full-time, Australia had racked up 38 shots to Taiwan’s two, with 13 on target.

The Matildas can be pleased with their collective output throughout the second phase of Paris 2024 qualifiers, during which coach Tony Gustavsson rotated his squad and finally allowed gems such as Clare Wheeler and Amy Sayer a chance to shine.

Strangely though, Wheeler, who scored her maiden Matildas goal against the Philippines as a midfielder, was rewarded for her form with a start at … right-back. With Gorry and Cooney-Cross retaining their midfield starting spots, and Ellie Carpenter having already returned to Lyon, Gustavsson filled the hole in an unorthodox manner.

At half-time he made the change, replacing Wheeler with Charli Grant, while also introducing Lydia Williams for Mackenzie Arnold to give the veteran 45 minutes in goal. In truth, neither goalkeeper was really needed.

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