Nestory Irankunda makes history for Socceroos as Kusini Yengi stars in World Cup qualifier

A milestone moment for the Aussie teen capped off a memorable night for the Socceroos.

Teen Aussie football sensation Nestory Irankunda has etched his name in the record books after becoming the second-youngest player to score for the Socceroos, during Tuesday night's 5-0 World Cup qualifier win over Palestine. Irankunda's second half penalty saw him notch a first ever goal for the Socceroos in just his second game, with forward Kusini Yengi bagging a brace and Adam Taggert and Martin Boyle also getting on the scoresheet in a commanding display in Perth.

The victory ensured Graham Arnold's Socceroos finished the first phase of their World Cup qualifying with a perfect record of six wins from six games, including 22 goals for and zero against. Yengi opened the scoring for the Aussies via a fifth-minute penalty, and he made it 3-0 in the 41st when he produced some fancy footwork to bamboozle the Palestine defence after Taggart had doubled the lead in the 26th minute, following a classy one-two move with Boyle.

Nestory Irankunda (left) and Kusini Yengi were both on the scoresheet for the Socceroos in the 5-0 rout of Palestine. Pic: Getty
Nestory Irankunda (left) and Kusini Yengi were both on the scoresheet for the Socceroos in the 5-0 rout of Palestine. Pic: Getty

Yengi then turned provider with a superb through-ball that ultimately set up Boyle to score Australia's fourth goal early in the second half. That set the stage for Bayern Munich-bound Irankunda to clinch a special piece of history for the Socceroos with his maiden goal for the men's national side after the home team were awarded another penalty for handball in the 88th minute. The 18-year-old dispatched the spot-kick before celebrating his milestone goal with a trademark backflip.

Arnold admits that Irankunda has grown in maturity and developed immensely as a player over the last 12 months, but says he's warned the teen that the move to German powerhouse Bayern Munich is just the start of his journey. "I went away with the under-17s for their Asian Cup 12 months ago, and you could see he was a little bit immature there and wasn't as disciplined as he should have been," Arnold said of the 18-year-old.

"But he has not been late to one meeting (during the Socceroos camp). He's done everything we've asked. He's had a great camp. Now he goes to Bayern and obviously now it's up to him. I had a good sit down chat with him the other day about going to Bayern and what it means. It's not like because you've gone to Bayern, it's all done. This is the start. It's all about hard work and passion and drive. He's an exciting talent, but there's a long way to go."

Seen on the right, Nestory Irankunda celebrating his first ever goal for the Socceroos.
Nestory Irankunda celebrated his first ever goal for the Socceroos with a trademark backflip. Pic: Getty

Arnold has a growing number of young players gaining experience in some of the biggest leagues in the world and is excited what it means for Aussie football. The Socceroos qualified for the last-16 of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, where they were knocked out by eventual champions Argentina. And Graham is hoping to go at least one better in 2026, by guiding the Socceroos into a World Cup quarter-final for the first time in history.

"The last 16 was a historic moment for the Socceroos and what we did, but there's boys playing in the higher leagues now," Arnold said. "(Alessandro) Circati was incredible against Palestine, and he's so mature for his age - 20 years old. I think that's a tip of the iceberg because next year he's going to be playing in Serie A in Italy against some incredible strikers, so he's going to get better and better. And so is Cam Burgess (in the EPL) and Connor Metcalfe (in the Bundesliga) and these younger ones."

Yengi is another player who is putting forward a convincing case to be Arnold's first-choice striker after his brace took the 25-year-old's tally to four goals in three games. The Socceroos now turn their attentions to the next phase of qualifying - made slightly more difficult by South Korea's 1-0 win over China that keeps the Koreans ahead of the Aussies in the World rankings and means the Socceroos will face one of Japan, South Korea or Iran in the next phase.


Only the top two teams from each group of six in the next phase will earn automatic qualification for the 2026 World Cup, with teams finishing third and fourth thrust into a tricky play-off situation. That was the scenario the Socceroos had to navigate by beating Peru in a sudden-death play-off to qualify for the 2022 World Cup. And Graham wants to make sure the Socceroos avoid that route this time by dominating their qualifying group.

"When we went through the last campaign we won the first 11 (matches)," Arnold said. "It's another goal that I've set the boys to achieve something special - winning more than 11 games straight. "I have high expectations all the time and I drive those high expectations to the boys and I don't want to go through another Peru game. That's the last thing that I want."

with AAP