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Steph Catley replaces Kerr as Australia skipper for Olympic qualifiers

SYDNEY: Arsenal left back Steph Catley will captain Australia’s Matildas in the absence of injured regular skipper Sam Kerr for the final stage of the Paris Olympic qualifiers, coach Tony Gustavsson said on Wednesday.

Prolific striker Kerr suffered an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury at a Chelsea training camp last month and is unlikely to be fit to play in the Olympics even if Australia qualify.

Gustavsson, who guided the Matildas to the semi-finals at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 and the last four of the Women’s World Cup on home soil last year, said Kerr remained an integral part of the Matildas.

“We’re supporting Sam any way we can,” the Swede told reporters from London. “She’s still going to be part of the team even though she’s not present in the locker room or on the pitch. I know for a fact that Sam wants it to be about the team, not her, now. “It’s all about qualifying for the Olympics.”

Gustavsson was naming his squad for the two-legged tie against Uzbekistan later this month that will determine if Australia qualify for the Olympics for a fifth time.

Among the contenders to replace Kerr up front is 35-year-old Michelle Heyman, recalled six years after winning the last of her 61 caps despite having already announced her retirement from international football.

“The way Michelle has played, she deserves to be selected, it’s purely performance,” said Gustavsson. “It’s not about your age for the Matildas, it’s about the quality you have as a footballer, whether you’re 17 or 35.

“Heyman has played herself into this team, the way she is playing, she’s in tremendous form and she’s scoring for fun.”

The Matildas face Uzbekistan in Tashkent on Feb. 24 in the first leg of the tie before hosting the return fixture at Docklands Stadium in Melbourne four days later.