Doha: The Socceroos have suffered a major World Cup blow with one of their best players ruled out of the tournament due to injury, while another key attacking weapon will not be fit to start against France.
Scottish-born midfielder Martin Boyle has lost his battle to recover from a knee problem suffered last month that had him in severe doubt for Wednesday’s (AEDT) opener against the reigning world champions, after it was determined he wouldn’t be fit to take part in any stage of the campaign.
Boyle will be replaced in Australia’s 26-man squad by Melbourne City midfielder Marco Tilio, who was flown into Qatar earlier in the week as a backup player.
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Coming on the same day France lost Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema for the tournament due to injury it is a devastating blow for Australia and their coach Graham Arnold. Boyle, who was convinced by Arnold in 2018 to switch allegiances to Australia, has developed into one of the squad’s most important players, scoring five times in 19 appearances.
“That’s probably the hardest thing, the devastating thing,” Arnold told Australian media in Doha moments before breaking the news to the rest of the squad.
“Boyle’s been so important right through this whole campaign and has been probably one of our best players right through the whole (qualifying) campaign. But at the end of the day we can’t do anything about it now.
“… But Martin is in great spirits, he’s going to stay on here and be part of it still. He brings such great energy to the camp and with all the players. It’s devastating news for Martin, but for Marco Tilio and the rest of the players it’s all about performance now.
“… “ devastating news for Martin and the family but at the end of the day, we pretty much knew it was going to be touch and go when we selected him.”
Under FIFA rules Australia are allowed to make late changes to their squad due to medical reasons, as many nations including France already have.
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Boyle’s tournament was thrown into doubt when he suffered an untimely injury in Hibernian’s win over St Mirren three weeks ago. The Scottish club said after scans the 29-year-old would likely have to play through pain but be fit for the tournament.
However, despite Australian medical staff leaving no stone unturned in a bid to help him recover, Arnold said Boyle was only ever rated “20-80” to be fit for the tournament.
“But we had to give him every last minute, every last chance, to try and get fit especially because of the sacrifices and everything he’s done through the whole campaign,” Arnold said.
“The medical staff have done everything they possibly can. Yesterday was the last chance and it didn’t come through well, so he’s out.”
Boyle was one of several players battling injury and fitness concerns over the coming days and Arnold also revealed midfielder Ajdin Hrustic (ankle) would not be fit to start against France – although he will be an option from the beginning against Tunisia four days later.
However there is good news in defence with key centre backs Harry Souttar and Kye Rowles declared ready to go as they work their way back from long-term injuries.
“Adjin’s fine, he’s capable of playing against France. He won’t start against France but he’s capable of coming off the bench and having an impact, but he’ll be ready for sure to start game two,” Arnold said.
“Everyone else is ready for selection for the first game.”
Both Boyle and Hrustic would be certain starters in Arnold’s first-choice team. Mathew Leckie is the likely beneficiary of Boyle’s withdrawal and Australia have multiple options in how they cover for Hrustic.
Riley McGree, in great form for Middlesbrough in the championship, is a like-for-like replacement while there is also an option to push Aaron Mooy further forward allowing for a call-up for the likes of Cam Devlin as a defensive midfielder.