‘Best moment in my life’ — Duke header seals Socceroos win

Socceroos claim first World Cup win in 12 years

Maligned striker Mitch Duke scored in Australia’s 1-0 win against Tunisia, delivering the Socceroos a third-ever win at the World Cup finals.

Coach Graham Arnold has told his triumphant Socceroos not to celebrate – but he wants the rest of Australia to go nuts.

Arnold expects plenty of hangovers in Australia after a moment of Mitch Duke magic delivered a 1-0 victory over Tunisia at the World Cup.

The Socceroos thanked Aussies for their support on Twitter.

Duke’s header in Saturday’s clash at Al Janoub Stadium in Qatar gifted his nation a third-ever triumph at the cup finals.

And it raised Australian hopes of advancing to the knockout phase for only the second time.

Duke recorded a message back at the team’s hotel, calling the result, and the reaction from Australia, amazing.

Another positive result against Denmark in four days’ time and Arnold’s motley mob of Australians from mainly second-tier leagues could match the feats of the fabled 2006 golden generation in progressing from the group.

But Arnold has ordered his players to temper their celebrations after Australia’s third win from 18 games at World Cup finals.

“I just said to them, no doubt the nation is extremely proud, but we have done nothing,” Arnold told reporters.

“You (players) have achieved something we can talk about after the tournament. But we’re here to go as far as we can go.

“I don’t want any celebration … get ready for the next one.”

Arnold had a different message for folks back home, though.

“Fans back at home, it’s a moment they’ll remember for the rest of their lives … there will be a few hangovers in the morning,” he said.

The Socceroos, after losing 4-1 to France in their opener, bank three precious points thanks to oft-maligned striker Duke.

In the 23rd minute, Duke met a skimming one-bounce cross and, with a glancing header that belied the degree of difficulty, became just the eighth Socceroo to score a World Cup.

The victory was Australia’s first at the finals since downing Serbia in 2010. They also beat Japan in 2006.

And the Socceroos kept a clean sheet at a cup for the first time since 1974, chiefly because of Harry Souttar.

In just his third senior game since recovering from a knee reconstruction, Souttar was simply superb with a string of interceptions and blocks.

“We were hanging on for a little bit towards the end … but I am just so pleased,” Souttar said.

“When the final whistle went, just the relief – all that hard work we have put in so far and over the qualification stages has come to that.”

Aaron Mooy was magnificent in midfield, controlling play with precise passing and a supreme spirit.

“It’s amazing,” Mooy said.

“Buzzing for everybody, that it makes them happy. That is the beauty of playing for the national team, especially at a World Cup.”

Wingers Craig Goodwin and Mathew Leckie were also influential.
“Proud,” Leckie said.

“But we have got to go again in a few days. Nothing has been done.”

Captain Mat Ryan, who made a string of late saves, echoed the theme.

“It’s what dreams are made of,” the goalkeeper said.

“It’s a great feat, what we have done. But we’re hungry for more.”

Midfielder Jackson Irvine said following Arnold’s edict and muting celebrations would be difficult.

“I have got to acknowledge what we did and what a big deal it was … and how big that is for me and how much it means for everybody else,” Irvine said.

“But I have got to let it simmer and let it fire us again in four days’ time.”
The Australians meet Denmark at 1800 local time on Wednesday (0200 AEDT Thursday).

Mitch Duke celebrates ‘best moment of my life

Duke’s stellar header followed a self-proclaimed prophesy: he told his family he would score.

Duke celebrated by fashioning the letter ‘J’, for his son Jaxson, who returned the gesture while beaming in the crowd at Al Janoub Stadiium in Doha.

“I was actually messaging some of my family saying I was going to score today,” Duke told reporters.

“And I told my son that I was going to be able to share this moment with him and get that celebration.

“Though I haven’t seen it yet, apparently he did it back to me from the stadium, which was a very special moment that I am going to treasure for the rest of my life.”

Duke’s strike vindicated the faith, questioned by many, that coach Graham Arnold put in him.

They first crossed path at the Central Coast Mariners, where Duke played from 2010-15.

Duke’s journey has since taken him to Japan, back to Australia and the Western Sydney Wanderers, to Saudi Arabia, back to the Wanderers again and then again to Japan for second-tier Fagiano Okayama.

Now, in Qatar, Duke is the eighth Australian to score at a World Cup.

“It’s the best moment in my life,” he said.

“It was pure ecstasy, it was crazy moment for me.

“After Craig Goodwin scored against France, we were told he was only the seventh player to score for Australia at a World Cup.

“And I actually said to Arnie (coach Arnold) that I was going to be the eighth – or ninth.

“So I’m very happy to be the eighth.”

While playing in Japan, Duke’s two children have lived in the UK.

“There has been a lot of sacrifice for family,” he said.

“I have been on my own for a lot of the time over the last couple of years, so it hasn’t been easy.

“But these kind of moments make those sacrifices worth it.

“It has not been an easy journey – football is always very difficult and I haven’t had the easiest journey either.

“My close friends and family know that and it’s just a special thing that they helped me through the darker times so this is for them.”

Harry Souttar dismisses any talk of individual heroics

Just as he stopped Tunisia, humble Harry Souttar is halting any praise of his individual heroics for the Socceroos.

Souttar’s masterly defensive efforts against the Tunisians were key to Australia’s breakthrough 1-0 win at the World Cup in Qatar on Saturday.

But after just his third senior game since recovering from a knee reconstruction, Souttar deflected away any personal glory.

“I can go through the whole team and say what an unbelievable job they have done,” he said.

“It’s not a one-man team. All the lads did amazing, even the subs that came on knew their role, knew their jobs.”

The 23-year-old from Aberdeen had played just one full senior game for his English club Stoke City since his surgery before arriving in Qatar.

His next was against reigning cup holders France in a 4-1 loss; now Tunisia as Australia celebrated just their third win in history at the cup finals.

“Obviously it’s a little bit of a different feeling than the other day, coming off after that game,” Souttar said.

“We were hanging on for a little bit towards the end, the last 15, 20 minutes.

“When the final whistle went, just the relief – all that hard work we have put in so far and over the qualification stages has come to that.
“I am just so pleased.

“But we have won one game. We have still got a huge, huge goal to play for, we want to get out of the group.”

Skipper Ryan  hungry for more

Mat Ryan isn’t dining out on his new-found status as the third Socceroos captain to salute at a World Cup.

He’s hungry for more.

Ryan joins Mark Viduka and Lucas Neill as Australians to captain the Socceroos to victory at the cup finals.

Viduka achieved the feat in 2006 and Neill in 2010, with Ryan now added to the list after Australia’s 1-0 win against Tunisia in Qatar on Saturday.

“It’s what dreams are made of, what unfolded here,” Ryan said.

“Just super-proud. A collective effort from the get-go.

“We just left it all out there on the park. That is the objective every game we play, but somehow we took it to another level.”

But Ryan said the message to the Socceroos was clear: the job isn’t done yet.

Defeat Denmark in their last group game and Ryan will likely join Neill as the only skipper to steer the Socceroos to the knockout phase.

“We are by no means satisfied with where we’re at,” he said.

“It’s a great feat what we have done but we’re hungry for more.”

Coach Arnold  doesn’t listen to his ‘irrelevant’ critics’

Socceroos coach Graham Arnold says his critics are irrelevant.

“Who cares? They’ve never coached,” Arnold said after Australia’s 1-0 victory against Tunisia at the World Cup in Qatar on Saturday.

“I haven’t seen who is critical. But I think some of them have never even been to a World Cup.

“So I don’t listen to them. They have no effect on my life.”

Arnold is the first Australian-born coach to lead the Socceroos to a World Cup victory.

But he has been stressing the Doha campaign isn’t about him, but his nation and its football fans.

“It’s a moment they’ll remember for the rest of their lives,” he said.
“I just want them to enjoy.

“That is what I said to the boys before the game: let’s put a smile on the nation’s face.

“There’s one or two teams that bring the nation together and that’s the Socceroos and the Matildas.

“When the Socceroos play at the World Cups, AFL fans, rugby league fans, they will become football fans.

“I can imagine the celebrations going on back home … there will be a few hangovers in the morning.

“I won’t have one.”

Avoiding a sporting hangover is foremost in Arnold’s mind.

“When I got the boys in a circle after the game, I told them: ‘I’m very proud but we have achieved nothing at the moment’,” he said.

“We can talk after about a win that hasn’t been done for 12 years, but we’re here to go as far as we can go.

“That one game is done and I don’t want any notion from the players, I don’t want them sitting up all night looking at social media and all that stuff.

“It’s about sleeping well, recovering well and getting the mindset ready for Denmark.”

The Australians meet the Danes on Wednesday at 1800 local time (Thursday 0200 AEDT) and a win will probably be enought to send the Socceroos into the knockout stages for the second time in cup history.

The state of Australia’s group with one game remaining:

France (6 points. 2 wins. Goal difference: plus 4)
Australia (3 points. 1 win 1 loss. Goal difference: minus 2)
Denmark (1 point. 1 draw 1 loss. Goal difference: minus 1)
Tunisia (1 point. 1 draw 1 loss. Goal difference: minus 1)
* Games to come: Australia v Denmark; France v Tunisia. Both kick off 1800 Wednesday (0200 AEDT Thursday)
* If Australia defeat or draw with Denmark, they advance regardless of other result.
* If Australia lose, Denmark will advance if France defeat or draw with Tunisia.

Snapshot of Australia’s win against Tunisia:

* Result: Australia 1 Tunisia 0

* Key moment: Mitch Duke’s glorious goal for the Socceroos was one to treasure. He ignited the counter-attack with a brilliant flick in midfield, and then charged into the area to meet Craig Goodwin’s deflected cross with a perfect glancing header into the corner. Doubtless, it made all those years of doing 100 push-ups, 100 sit-ups and 100 chin-ups before school every day worth all the sacrifice for the oft-maligned striker.

* Player of the match: Numerous contenders, with Aaron Mooy and Jackson Irvine terrific in midfield, but the rock-like Harry Souttar in central defence takes the plaudits. He may still be a bit ring rusty after his injury woes but the Stoke behemoth was a tower of strength all game, a giant symbol of his side’s determination as he headed away any sign of danger time and again. He made one staggering block of a goal-bound shot just before the break and in the last five minutes made two crucial interventions as the Tunisians piled on the pressure.

* Stats that matter: At last, Australia have won another match at the World Cup finals – only the third ever – ending a wait that has gone on for 12 years since the Socceroos beat Serbia in a group game in 2010. They had not won in seven matches since then, suffering six defeats and one draw. It always helps when you are leading at halftime; astonishingly, this was the first time in 18 World Cup games that the Socceroos had been ahead at the break.

* Quote of the day: “No words. When the ball hit the net, it was the best moment of my life to date in my football career. I’m going to start crying because it’s such a big moment. It’s the best feeling in the world but I’m trying not to get too caught up with it because the job’s not done yet, we’ve got one more game to win to get out the group.” – Mitch Duke

* What’s next: The Australians meet Denmark in their last group game on December 1 from 2am AEDT, and it looks as if it could well be a winner-takes-all affair with both teams set to be battling for qualification.

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