Duke determined to seize his Socceroos chance

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Like his country on that eventful night in Doha, Duke, himself, is an emblem for the under-dog.

The Japan-based striker has always been more dogged than prolific during a 12-year pro career, but was a totem of defiance, perseverance and persistence as the Socceroos edged past Peru in a dramatic penalty shootout.

Duke, 31, finished top scorer in qualifying with five goals - despite starting just three of Australia’s 20 games.

Social media snipers like to question his credentials, but Duke - whose Fagiano Okayama side is pushing for promotion to the J1 League for the first time in its history - pays no heed.

“I think I’ve earned my opportunities, and I think Graham Arnold and the coaching staff feel the same way,” said Duke after being selected again for this month’s final two World Cup warm-ups against New Zealand.

“I’ve been riding a bit of a wave. It’s been a bit surreal the last year or so … probably some of the best times of my career in regards to both national team and club football.

“I’ve played a lot of games (31 - with seven goals and three assists for his club) and I think I also played my part in helping Australia qualify for the World Cup.

“I started against Peru - a massive one putting into perspective everything that was on the line, especially as so many people had us written off as well.

“Mentally and physicality everything went on the line - it’s not just for your club, it’s your whole country. 

“It’s your life and your family and to get to the World Cup was an unbelievable feeling.”

Duke dismisses his doubters as if shrugging off a pesky defender trying to bring him to earth.

“I do see social media - you can’t avoid it sometimes - and you have people saying ‘how can someone from the J2 be our starting striker against Peru’?” he said. “But at the end of the day, they come off quite ignorant if they don’t actually know how competitive the J2 really is and the quality there. 

“I’m playing and starting every game, scoring and getting assists in a league where we’re playing 42 games a year plus cups, unlike 26 in the A-League.

“I feel like I’ve justified my place in the green and gold. As long as the right people are happy, that’s all that matters.

“Graham Arnold will need players who are in form, ready to give it their all and show themselves. 

“Players who won’t back down to anyone. I feel like I’m ready to do that.

“This month will be great exposure for a lot of players looking to get a ticket on the plane to Qatar and force Arnie to make those tough decisions.

"For me, at 31, it’s my last chance at a major tournament after missing out in 2018. That’s a huge motivation.”

Like Duke, Arnold has also been the target of cyber sharp-shooters but never lost the belief of his squad during a tortuous qualifying campaign that ultimately came down to that penalty shootout against Peru.

“I’m lucky to have started my career under him at the Central Coast Mariners where he gave me the platform moving ahead,” Duke said.

“He’s created an unbelievable atmosphere with the lads - which you saw play out in the match with Peru where he managed to downplay the pressures and use the fact that everybody was writing us off as a motivational tool.

“We went out there to play for him, our country and our families. People thought he was mental or crazy with introducing Andrew Redmayne for the penalties but that became a worldwide sensation.

“He’s not scared to make big decisions. We want to repay the trust he’s put in us. He’s given us the belief that we can take down anyone.”