Socceroos striker Mitch Duke has backed skipper Mat Ryan to be fit and ready to start in goal if called upon in Australia’s Asian Cup opener against India.
Ryan skipped the pre-tournament friendly against Bahrain on January 6 as he recovers from a fractured cheekbone suffered in December.
Coach Graham Arnold has been coy on Ryan’s role against India, bar stressing his full involvement in training in Doha.
But after he and his fellow strikers put Ryan – in a protective Batman-style face mask – to the test at training, Duke is confident the 31-year-old will be ready for Saturday night’s clash.
The game kicks off at 10.30pm AEDT at the Ahmed bin Ali Stadium.
“Maty’s on the training pitch. He’s been involved and he’s up for selection by the looks of it,” Duke said.
“I’m sure Maty would be honest with his ability and where he’s at.
“If he can complete full training sessions, we’re doing some pretty intense sessions as well, (he’s) putting his body on the line in training.
“I’m sure if there’s the confidence between him (and) Arnie, he’s up for selection. Arnie will make those decisions based on pure confidence and belief in each individual.”
The clash with the world No.102 appears the perfect opportunity for Ryan to test his touch and confidence.
But if he isn’t fit, Joe Gauci seems the most likely deputy, ahead of Lawrence Thomas.
Duke, Arnold’s preferred striker, appears certain to start after scoring in the 2-0 friendly win over Bahrain.
Kusini Yengi and Bruno Fornaroli headline the strikers backing up the in-form Duke.
The 32-year-old expected a strong and combative start against India.
“They’re going to be a different approach to Bahrain,” he said.
“They’re going to be a bit more aggressive, a bit more energy about them.
“But we’ve looked at ways we can handle that. And as long as we focus on ourselves and how we play to our strengths, we can create a lot of chances.
“And then it’s up to us being ruthless at both ends, especially in that goalscoring side.”
Just 12 players from the 26-player Socceroos squad that reached the round of 16 at last year’s World Cup are at the Asian tournament.
“There’s a great balance between experienced players and youth and those young players that we’ve got here bring a lot of energy, a lot of quality, a lot of individual ability,” Duke said.
“There’s some flair in there as well, which is good in some of these games where maybe you need some individual brilliance.
“We’ve got the perfect balance ready to make some history and amazing memories here, and really do the job in this tournament.”