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Jada Whyman replaces Lydia Williams for crucial Matildas fixtures

Jarred Cross -

Rising goalkeeper Jada Whyman's impressive A-League campaign has been rewarded with a Matildas call-up for upcoming Olympic qualifiers.

The Wagga product was named in the 23-player squad in place of fellow Indigenous star and Matildas veteran Lydia Williams, who recently suffered an ankle injury requiring surgery in a bid to see her return for Melbourne Victory before season's end.

Whyman, 24, has green-and-gold experience at the under-age level, but has yet to break earn a cap behind Williams, World Cup hero Mackenzie Arnold and others among a handful of tours.

The Wiradjuri and Yorta-Yorta keeper has kept 6 clean sheets across 15 A-League matches to help her Sydney FC to third spot on the ladder with seven match days remaining.

Whyman, Williams and Teagan Micah in Matildas colours in late 2023. (Image: Facebook)

Matildas wins in the two-legged third round qualifiers against Uzbekistan later this month will guarantee their spot for Paris in July.

There are no age restrictions for players in women's Olympic football, unlike the under-23 limit in the men's draw.

Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson said there have been challenges and opportunities afforded in the selection process.

"Selecting this squad has been a challenge with a lot of moving parts; from injuries to some players and reduction of competitive match minutes for other players due to off-seasons," he said.

"The challenge has also created opportunity with consistent performers provided an opening to be contributors during a vital set of Olympic Qualifiers.

"We have been evaluating players consistently in recent months and our goal has been to find the balance between the most in-form and those who will work well in terms of on pitch connections and chemistry."

A notable but expected absence in the side is Anaiwan striker Kyah Simon, who is light on recent game time on return from serious injury.

The 32-year-old, who has over 100 international caps, made her return to debut professional club Central Coast Mariners less than a fortnight ago after 483 days on the sidelines since rupturing her ACL at Tottenham in October 2022.

In an open letter, Simon said she doubted whether she would ever come back from the injury.

"To be completely honest I doubted I would ever get here, I lost count of the times this rehab broke me, mentally, physically and emotionally," she wrote on Instagram following her return.

"But here I am, we made it and with that being said thank you to the people who checked in on me, not just as a footballer, but as a person, those who continued to support me through the tough times, even without the clarity, you stuck by me and I appreciate you more than you know."

Kyah Simon on return after nearly 500 days sidelined through injury for Central Coast Mariners late last month. (Image: Facebook)

Simon was the first Indigenous Australian to score at a World Cup in 2011, and was controversially picked in the Matildas' 2023 World Cup squad despite the question marks over her availability.

Like Williams, she didn't feature on-field throughout the tournament with reemerging injury frustrations.

In October, Simon told ABC getting looked past for penalty responsibilities in the Matildas agonising penalty shootout win over France in the quarter final was devastating.

"I've never been in the position where I've put on a Matildas jersey and never actually taken part on the field," she said in October.

"But I just tried to be the best supporter and fan of the girls that I could be in any moment, to bring the vibe or help with the energy.

"I think in major tournaments, those finer details are sometimes what gets you across the line or can make you fall short. And Tony is very much for that attention-to-detail part of it.

"So I knew that every time I was in and around the squad, the way I carried myself, that was going to impact the team. The team is always going to come first in my eyes, and I'm going to do whatever I can to support and help them be successful."

The Matildas are now eyeing off a fifth Olympics appearance.

They play their first game in Tashkent on February 24 before a return leg in Melbourne on February 28.

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