Hamstrung Duke out of Socceroos’ big Uzbekistan clash

Anna Harrington |

Mitch Duke will miss Australia’s Asian Cup match with Uzbekistan with a hamstring injury.
Mitch Duke will miss Australia’s Asian Cup match with Uzbekistan with a hamstring injury.

The Socceroos will be without striker Mitch Duke for their crunch Asian Cup match against Uzbekistan, and potentially deeper in the tournament, due to a hamstring injury.

Bruno Fornaroli looms as the man charged with leading the line in place of 33-year-old Duke for Tuesday night’s (Wednesday AEDT) match at Al Janoub Stadium, when Australia can seal top spot in group B with a win or draw.

Coach Graham Arnold confirmed Duke, who started every game at the World Cup in 2022 had suffered the injury during the win over Syria.

Australia will play their last-16 match on January 28 if they top the group and January 30 if they finish second, with Duke clearly in a race against time to play in the opening knockout match.

Fornaroli could step in
Victory’s Bruno Fornaroli could be the man to step in for his injured teammate. (James Ross/AAP PHOTOS)

“I can be honest and say Mitchell Duke is out with a hamstring,” Arnold said.

“It’ll be one game at a time for him. But we’ll see where that lands over the next week. 

“He had a bit of a scan and he’s got a small strain so he’ll be out. 

“So it’ll be an opportunity for me to have a look at other players as well and against good opposition it’ll be a great test.”

Arnold insisted he hadn’t settled on Duke’s replacement but Fornaroli appears the obvious leading candidate, ahead of the promising Kusini Yengi and uncapped John Iredale.

Fornaroli, 36, has impressed with his smarts and movement when coming on as a substitute.

A change in striker will offer insight into whether a reshuffle can help break down defences, something Australia has struggled with.

Attacker Riley McGree, building back from a foot injury, also appears poised to start for the first time this tournament after impressing off the bench in the opening two games.

“He’s sharp. He’s fresh. And it’s probably now time for him to have a start and get out there and try and get through 60-70 minutes and build for that round of 16 game,” Arnold said.

Arnold confirmed there would be several changes against a hungry Uzbekistan, who will top the group if they win.

Topping the group is a massive incentive, not only because it softens the round-of-16 opponent, but because it would likely mean ending up on the opposite side of the draw to Japan, who suffered a shock loss to Iraq.

“That was our goal right from the start, was to top the group,” Arnold said.

“Obviously, with high expectations, if you don’t reach for the stars, well then you’ll never achieve anything in life.

“Obviously, Uzbekistan are coming along a lot as a country.

“They invest a lot of money in football and they’re a good side and but we’ll be ready for them on Tuesday.”

* AUSTRALIA V UZBEKISTAN

Tuesday, January 23, 2230 AEDT

Al Janoub Stadium, Doha

World rankings: Australia 25, Uzbekistan 68

Head-to-head: Played 4. Australia 3 wins, 1 draw, 0 losses

Most recent meeting:

21/01/19: 0-0 (Australia win 4-2 on penalties), Asian Cup round of 16 – Al Ain.

AAP