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Duke backs Roos to bounce back in WC chase

Socceroos forward Mitch Duke is confident Australia can get their World Cup qualification back on track despite an overnight stumble against China in Sharjah.

Duke’s first-half header had given Australia a one-nil lead over the struggling Chinese but a second-half penalty ensured Graham Arnold’s team had to settle for a 1-1 result.

With rivals Japan beating Oman in Muscat, Australia have now slipped to third in the group with four games to play and out of the two automatic qualifying positions for Qatar 2022.

“We’ve just got to brush this off and make sure we focus on the remaining four games and finish strong – maximum points out of the remaining games,” the 30-year-old said.

“We feel confident that we can get the job done.”

Duke’s importance to the Socceroos’ hopes of reaching a fifth-straight World Cup are growing by the game.

With Adam Taggart having failed to hit the back of the net since qualification resumed from a COVID hiatus in June, and A-League golden boot Jamie Maclaren unavailable for all but the past two games – Duke has hit the back of the net five times in 2021 for his country.

The China match was Duke’s first start in the third stage of qualifying but Arnold said it was a deserved selection for the ex-Western Sydney Wanderers talisman.

“Dukey’s doing a great job. He works tirelessly up front,” Arnold said.

“Dukey’s always a danger in front of goal.”

Duke will now return to Japan where is plying his trade for second-tier Fagiano Okayama, as Australia’s players look to gain form and fitness before the qualifiers resume in late January.

“You need match minutes and you need good form going into these games because it’s important to help the team obviously,” he said.

“There’s a lot of players that are in-and-out of clubs or their season hasn’t started yet.

“Now that is starting soon a lot of the boys can hopefully get some form, get some minutes and bring that into the national team and help us finish strong in this campaign.”

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