Martin Boyle will miss the entire World Cup, in a major blow to the Socceroos’ attacking arsenal two days out from their first match against France.
The Scotland-born winger has been in significant doubt since arriving in camp at the start of this week, having injured his knee playing for Hibernian three weeks ago and only managed light training in Qatar separate from the rest of the squad.
Marco Tilio was flown in from Australia on Tuesday, ready to be drafted as cover should the time come for manager Graham Arnold to make the tough call.
Under Fifa regulations, Arnold had until Monday evening at 10pm – 24 hours before they run out against France at the Al Janoub Stadium – to cut a player for medical reasons and name an injury replacement.
But Boyle did not pass a key fitness test on Saturday, prompting the early decision in favour of certainty for him, Tilio and the rest of the playing group.
It means Boyle is yet to represent his adopted country at a major tournament, having also been ruled out just days before the 2019 Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates after picking up a knee injury during a warm-up friendly against Oman.
“Not really sure I can put this into words how gutted I am to withdraw from the World Cup squad,” Boyle posted on Instagram. “Gave it my all to be fit and it just wasn’t to be this time unfortunately. Extremely proud to have been selected and to have played my part in qualifying for the tournament.
“Grateful to be kept in camp and show my full support to the lads on and off the field and to experience the whole World Cup. Will no doubt be back stronger than ever but for now my full focus is on being the vibe manager for the lads.”
Arnold said Boyle had been selected in the knowledge he was only a 20% chance of playing.
“But we had to give him every last chance to try and get fit, especially because of the sacrifices and everything he’s made through the whole [qualifying] campaign,” Arnold said.
“The medical staff have done everything they possibly can. Yesterday was pretty much the last chance, and he didn’t come through well.
“Tilio has integrated really well. I called him [upon naming the squad] to tell him he wasn’t part of the 26 but at the same time he was on standby. Melbourne City have been fantastic, releasing him to come across and train.”
Tilio, 21, was a notable omission when Australia’s World Cup squad was announced last week, having been considered on the cusp but lacking consistent form and minutes for City.
It was better news for Ajdin Hrustic, the Hellas Verona playmaker and Socceroos X-factor who had also been training separately but was ultimately declared fit and appeared with the main squad on Sunday, though back-up goalkeeper Danny Vukovic was missing with apparent calf tightness.
“Ajdin’s fine,” Arnold said. “Ajdin is capable of playing against France. He won’t start against France, but he’s capable of coming off the bench and having an impact.”
Arnold said it was all systems go for tall defender Harry Souttar, who has been sidelined for 12 months after rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament and only played his first match back for Stoke on 8 November.
“Everyone else is ready for selection on the first game,” he said. “In the training sessions we’ve been working a lot on 11 v 11, getting the rhythm right and the communication and connection, and Harry’s looked excellent.”
It follows news that France’s injury woes have deepened, with Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema to miss the whole tournament with a thigh injury sustained during training in Doha.
Didier Deschamps is already already without Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kanté for Les Bleus’ title defence.