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Australia v Saudi Arabia, teams, Mitchell Duke fighting for starting role


DOHA, QATAR - SEPTEMBER 02: Mitchell Duke of Australia celebrates after scoring their team's third goal during the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifier match between Australia and China PR at Khalifa International Stadium on September 02, 2021 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Mohamed Farag/Getty Images)
DOHA, QATAR – SEPTEMBER 02: Mitchell Duke of Australia celebrates after scoring their team’s third goal during the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifier match between Australia and China PR at Khalifa International Stadium on September 02, 2021 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Mohamed Farag/Getty Images)

Don’t forget proud Western Sydney product Mitch Duke when assessing the Socceroos’ starting options in attack against Saudi Arabia on Thursday night.

Much has been made of the return of Melbourne City’s trio of forwards, Mat Leckie, Jamie Maclaren and Andrew Nabbout, for Australia’s latest World Cup qualifiers, which include a clash with China next Wednesday morning (AEDT) in Sharjah.

However, it would be silly to dismiss Duke as a starting option.

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Mitchell Duke (right) is eyeing off a starting role with the Socceroos. Picture: Getty
Mitchell Duke (right) is eyeing off a starting role with the Socceroos. Picture: Getty

The 30-year-old marksman has been played in seven of Australia’s eight matches since the resumption of Australia’s World Cup qualifying campaign in June.

Five of those seven appearances have been off the bench, but he has still managed four goals, including a brace as a starter against Chinese Taipei.

Duke has also scored 13 A-League goals at CommBank Stadium, the Parramatta venue of Thursday night’s match, and also the home ground of his former club Western Sydney Wanderers.

Add to that some knowledge he may have picked up from his stint playing in the Saudi Professional League last year for Al-Taawoun, and the Japan-based striker is a genuine option to play from the opening whistle on Thursday night.

“I’m a Western Sydney boy, so I’m very happy to be back here,” Duke said.

Mitchell Duke celebrates scoring a goal for Western Sydney Wanderers. Picture: Getty
Mitchell Duke celebrates scoring a goal for Western Sydney Wanderers. Picture: Getty

“I’m very happy to be back home at a stadium I love, and personally have a very good record at … I’ve scored plenty of goals at this stadium, so I’m hoping to add to that on Thursday night.

“I’ve got a lot of friends and family coming to the game. I had to sort out about 41 tickets, so I’m looking forward to having my own personal support system, and I’ve got a very good connection.

“It’s a very intimate stadium, especially when it’s packed out. Those supporters are going to make a big difference in how we go and they’ll help us over the line to get those three points.

“Let’s make everyone go home happy.”

Duke has just notched up 100 Japanese league appearances.

Duke (L) has been a goal-scoring threat off the bench in recent matches. Picture: AFP
Duke (L) has been a goal-scoring threat off the bench in recent matches. Picture: AFP

Currently with second-tier outfit Fagiano Okayama, he also had a stint in the Japanese top-flight with Shimizu S-Pulse from 2015 to 2018.

“It’s a nice little milestone personally for me; Japan football is unbelievable and a very good quality, so to get 100 games there in the league, I don’t think too many Aussies have been able to do that,” Duke said.

“It feels special to do that, and just to represent Aussies in that league and over in Japan is always a good feeling because that’s what you want – Aussies doing well in other countries.

“It’s good. I love my football and my life over there in Japan. I’m just enjoying life – that’s all you can ask.”

Duke was the first overseas-based player to arrive in Australia for this match.

Of the 24-man squad, about half-a-dozen players – including Spain-based goalkeeper Mat Ryan and Germany-based playmaker Ajdin Hrustic – were scheduled to land in Sydney on Tuesday night.

FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 – AFC Asian Qualifiers (third round)

Who: Australia v Saudi Arabia

When: Thursday, 8.10pm (AEDT)

Where: CommBank Stadium, Parramatta

TV: Live on Network 10

Duke is among a number of options Graham Arnold could use up front against Saudi Arabia. Picture: AAP
Duke is among a number of options Graham Arnold could use up front against Saudi Arabia. Picture: AAP

SOCCEROOS RETURN HOME AFTER TWO-YEAR WAIT

By Robbie Slater, Socceroos great

The Socceroos’ road to next year’s World Cup has finally brought them back to Australia, so let’s not waste the opportunity on Thursday night to get behind a team that continues to do our nation proud.

Australia’s World Cup qualifier against Saudi Arabia at Bankwest Stadium in Sydney will be the first match the Socceroos have played on home soil since October, 2019.

It’s been a long time between drinks, but Graham Arnold’s men have been outstanding on foreign soil.

There’s plenty to celebrate having the Socceroos back in Australia.
There’s plenty to celebrate having the Socceroos back in Australia.

They set a record by winning 11 successive qualifiers, only coming unstuck last month with a 2-1 loss to Japan.

But all is far from lost, with the Socceroos sitting in second spot in their group, three points behind Saudi Arabia, their opponents on Thursday.

The Saudis have made a perfect start to the latest round of AFC qualifiers, with four wins from as many game.

However, the Socceroos have a great home record and will fancy their chances of winning and joining the Saudis on 12 points.

What will help Australia’s cause is a big crowd.

The NSW public turned out in numbers to welcome the Matildas home last month after a long absence, and the Socceroos deserve the same treatment.

Ajdin Hrustic is one of the stars of the show..
Ajdin Hrustic is one of the stars of the show..

In the absence of key playmakers Tom Rogic and Aaron Mooy, midfielder Ajdin Hrustic is again set to shine.

Hrustic’s brilliance will complement Melbourne City’s attacking trio of Mathew Leckie, Jamie Maclaren and Andrew Nabbout, who all make a long-awaited return to national duty.

It won’t be easy, but the Socceroos look the goods end the Saudis’ run of wins.

Sydney

Marco Monteverde is a Brisbane-based sports reporter for NCA Newswire. He worked in a similar role for The Courier-Mail from 2007 to 2020. During a journalism career of more than 25 years, he has also worked fo… Read more

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