Kusini Yengi relishes opportunity to start for the Socceroos at Asian Cup

Kusini Yengi relishes opportunity to start for the Socceroos at Asian Cup
  • PublishedJanuary 25, 2024

Kusini Yengi is confident of opening his Socceroos’ goalscoring account at the Asian Cup as Australia’s path to the tournament final has become less cluttered with continental heavyweights.

The Socceroos’ long-time nemesis Japan has finished second in Group D following a 3-1 win over Indonesia in the early hours of Thursday morning (AEDT).

Had the Samurai Blue topped their group or qualified for the round-of-16 as one of the tournament’s best four third-placed group teams – both possibilities before their game against Indonesia and depending on the result of the other overnight Group D match between Iraq and Vietnam, which was won 3-2 by Iraq – they would have been in the Socceroos’ half of the draw during the knockout stages.

Depending on results on Thursday night, the Australians may also avoid South Korea until the final if both teams get there.

However, should the South Koreans remain in second place in Group E, they will be in the Socceroos’ half of the draw.

As it stands, Australia’s round-of-16 opponent on Sunday night will be Palestine or Indonesia.

However, should the Socceroos progress, as expected, there is a possibility that they will need to beat Saudi Arabia, who defeated eventual champions Argentina at the 2022 World Cup, to reach the semi-finals.

Having impressed national coach Graham Arnold with his performance in the Socceroos’ 1-1 draw with Uzbekistan on Tuesday night (AEDT) after starting for Australia for the first time, Yengi seems likely to start again this weekend if first-choice centre-forward Mitch Duke doesn’t recover from his hamstring injury.

“It was good to start to build those connections with players on the field and get a feel for what it is like to truly be a Socceroo,” said 25-year-old Yengi, whose first three appearances for Australia were off the bench.

Yengi’s performance included a strong run into Uzbekistan’s penalty area that led to the Socceroos being awarded a spot kick – scored by Martin Boyle – for a handball offence.

“That’s something that’s stuck in my mind, a big moment in the game,” he said.

“Unfortunately I didn’t get my first goal (for the Socceroos) and we weren’t able to win, but it’s going to come soon.

“The more games I play, and the more I get to understand how my teammates play and how they move, and how we can link up together, we’ll create a lot more opportunities and hopefully I’ll be on the end of them.”

The 187cm Yengi, who plies his trade for English outfit Portsmouth, said the match against Uzbekistan felt a “bit different” to a club match.

“League One (England’s third-tier) is quite physical. The refs don’t give too many free kicks, there’s a lot of battling, and normally I’m up against people who are taller than me, and a lot stronger than me, despite my size,” he said.

“It’s a bit different (at the Asian Cup) in a few different ways but I enjoyed it.

“I’m here for a reason, for the things I’ve been doing with my club.”


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