Duke, McGowan loom as Socceroo bolters

July 28, 2013
By Angela Habashy

Two players - defender Ryan McGowan and striker Mitchell Duke - really thrust themselves onto the 2014 World Cup radar among the tyros who impressed Socceroos coach Holger Osieck at the East Asia Cup.

McGowan and Duke both started all three games in South Korea against the hosts, Japan and China.

And, while a handful of performances by others may have warranted a closer look by Osieck over the next year, that duo appear to have convinced the German mentor of their quality after their three strong outings.

Osieck heaped praise on Duke but while the Central Coast young gun was busy scoring goals, McGowan was putting in the hard yards as a defensive mainstay and the only player Osieck used in every minute of every game.

Osieck promised those yet to get game time would play in Australia's final game on Sunday but he elected to leave Mariners defender Trent Sainsbury on the bench, instead opting to get another look at McGowan.

And the 23-year-old didn't disappoint.

Partnered with Jade North in central defence for the first two games and with Robert Cornthwaite for the last one, McGowan looked by far the most solid in both pairings.

Just 12 months ago when playing for bankrupt Scottish club Hearts, McGowan wasn't even a Socceroos prospect.

Now the China-based player with six caps to his name appears a genuine contender to join Australia's ageing central back pairing of skipper Lucas Neill and Sasa Oganovski.

The Adelaide-born defender is comfortable playing anywhere across the back four.

Asked if he thought Osieck's decision to play him in all three games was an indication of World Cup interest, McGowan said: "Hopefully. That's what I'm trying to do, get into the starting XI for the games leading up to the World Cup.

"I thought he would have changed the whole starting XI (against China on Sunday), but I was delighted when he named me to play and just tried to do my best."

Duke, 22, was the main beneficiary of striker Josh Kennedy's unavailability for the tournament, and used his opportunity to score is way into Osieck's consciousness.

While he didn't get much time on the ball in his Socceroos debut - Australia's 0-0 draw with South Korea - he made up for it in the next two outings scoring a sensational goal against Japan then netting again at the death against China.

Osieck admitted after the China match "there definitely have been some pleasant surprises" and singled Duke out.

Asked if any player had worked their way into his reckoning he said: "Definitely.

"The performance of Mitchell Duke. He's a very promising young boy."

The likes of goalkeeper Eugene Galekovic and Western Sydney Wanderers duo Tomi Juric and Aaron Mooy also put their hands up at various times over the nine days in South Korea.

And while Osieck didn't need much convincing of the Adelaide United keeper's quality he's sure to be closely monitoring the Wanderers duo over the next season.

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