Kusini Yengi grew up as a footballer watching Bruno Fornaroli and Mitch Duke.
Now, Yengi, the towering, thrilling striker with nifty feet, has been handed the keys to Australia’s attack – and he and wily veteran Fornaroli will be crucial to the Socceroos’ fortunes while Duke’s out with a hamstring injury.
Yengi earned the first shot at starting in hard-pressing Duke’s absence, with coach Graham Arnold praising his “outstanding” debut start against Uzbekistan, while Fornaroli impressed off the bench in all three games.
Deciding whether to stick with Yengi, turn to Fornaroli or gamble on Duke’s fitness in Sunday night’s round-of-16 match – against opponents yet to be finalised – could be the difference.
Super-confident, deeply likeable Yengi already believes he can be the man.
“I want to come into this tournament and be the main man – that’s the way I look at it,” he told AAP ahead of the Uzbekistan game.
“In tournaments, there’s always players that don’t really play at the start and end up going on to be playing major roles in the team and I’m looking forward to hopefully being one of those players.
“I have a lot to offer to the team and I think I bring something different that maybe Duke or Bruno don’t offer and I think with those qualities I can really help the team.
“So in the short term, I want to be a starting player in the squad, I think I can compete for that position and in the future there’s so many things I want to do with the Socceroos.”
Yengi believes he can bring plenty to the table.
“I’m a very versatile player. I’ve got a unique skill set. I’m strong, I’m powerful, I’m quick, but I’m also very good with the ball,” he said.
“I like to dribble so I think that can help break down compact defenses, taking players on and linking up around the edge of the box.
“I do have an instinct for goal and a pretty good reputation with scoring in big games. So I think that’s something that I can add to the team.”
Yengi’s ability with ball at feet shone against Uzbekistan when he jinked his way past several defenders out wide before cutting the ball back for Riley McGree, who should have scored.
That run also led to the handball penalty decision that delivered Australia’s only goal.
Fornaroli is a big fan of Yengi – but don’t expect the 36-year-old to take a back seat.
The Melbourne Victory star has looked dangerous every time he has come on this tournament.
Against packed, deep-lying defences, the Uruguay-born Australian thrives.
“For me, actually, it’s perfect,” Fornaroli said.
“I can also find the pockets in between the defenders and the midfielders. They sit back a lot – I think it’s one of my games and then I can find the space there and bounce and then try to use my body to turn .
“But I’m here to help the team in every situation. The only thing is I have to be ready: prepare myself in training, try to be ready for every situation and that’s what I want.
“If I have to play 90 minutes it will be top but if you have to help the team in five minutes, that also for me is great.”