‘I was going to have a panic attack’: Socceroo Mitchell Duke reveals what qualification for the FIFA World Cup REALLY means to the players
- Australia secured its place at the FIFA World Cup on penalties against Peru
- After finishing third in their pool, the Socceroos had to qualify the hard way
- Many doubters emerged before the crucial matches against UAE and Peru
- Now they are through, the players and coach have expressed their relief
Socceroos strike weapon Mitchell Duke perfectly summed up the mood of the players as Australia reached an historic fifth consecutive FIFA World Cup at the last minute on Tuesday morning [AEST].
‘I was going to have a f***ing panic attack,’ he said before quickly slapping his hands over his mouth.
‘Oops, I swore.’
It’s OK Mitchell, Australia forgives you.
Luis Advincula of Peru in action against Mitchell Duke of Australia during the FIFA World Cup 2022 Intercontinental playoff for a place in the World Cup
This has been a World Cup qualification rollercoaster like no other for the Socceroos.
Covid restrictions meant 16 of their 20 qualification matches had to take place on the road.
There was no glamourous Dutch coach to steer the ship this time around. One of our best players in Tom Rogic had to withdraw from the final stages for personal reasons.
Instead of the usual overwhelming feeling of hope, there was widespread negativity surround the Socceroos chances of toppling the United Arab Emirates and Peru in back-to-back elimination qualifiers in Doha, Qatar.
After Andrew Redmayne pulled off the penalty shootout save that defied those doubts, the party is ready to begin and the relief in the Socceroos camp is palpable.
‘Honestly, I have never been involved in this kind of situation before. Incredible credit to everybody involved,’ Duke said.
‘I am so proud of the boys. We have done it the hard way, so many people writing us off. I’m speechless. I am proud of the boys.’
One of the gutsiest performances on the field came from Aaron Mooy, who came into these intercontinental showdowns with almost no football under his belt in six months.
He played the entire 120 minutes, was one of the Socceroos best all night and slotted his shot in the penalty shootout.
‘It’s been a difficult qualification process this round with Covid and everything,’ he said.
‘We hung in there and when it goes to penalties you never know which way it can go but we were the lucky team today. We can’t be any happier.’
Awer Mabil of Australia celebrates along with the rest of the Socceroos after the last-gasp qualifying win over Peru in a penalty shootout
Former Socceroos were singing their praises as well, with Luke Wilkshire calling it an historic victory.
‘Every aspiring footballer will have been up watching that this morning, worth missing those hours of sleep, I think,’ he said.
‘This is history. This is going to go down in the history books and generations will talk about it, just the excitement to think that we are six months away from the World Cup.
‘People had written them off. They went the hard way, they turned up on the night and performed. We saw bravery and character.’
Coach Graham Arnold said the entire group had shut out the outside noise and doubters to focus on the job at hand.
Coach Graham Arnold praised the players for overcoming the numerous challenges they faced along the path to World Cup qualification
‘The doubters don’t bother me. It’s these boys that I care for,’ Arnold said.
‘It has been over a thousand days, travel, sacrifices, staff, the board, sacrifices everyone has made, we haven’t had many games at home.
‘We just have to block out the noise, and I said on interviews during the week, the Aussie spirit, we love being backs against the wall, and this is for everyone back home.
‘Twenty World Cup qualifiers and we’ve played 16 away from home. It’s been tough but we did it.’