Australia

Socceroos star ruled out after Mbappe clash

Australia v Tunisia.

The Socceroos will start a different right back in tonight’s clash with Tunisia with Nathaniel Atkinson unable to start with an ankle injury.

Atkinson was a notable omission from Australia’s light session this morning in Doha, and team officials have confirmed he hasn’t recovered from a knock suffered in Australia’s defeat to France on Tuesday.

Atkinson was given a tough time against arguably the best player on the planet, Kylian Mbappe, but on reflection analysis shows the 22 year-old wasn’t totally torn to shreds.

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There were 14 one-on-one duels between Mbappe and Atkinson in the game, with Atkinson beaten on three occasions.

KICK-OFF IS AT 9PM AEDT

Socceroos coach Graham Arnold made a point of mentioning the youngster’s performance in a press briefing with Australian reporters yesterday.

“I just said to Nathaniel: you’re going to remember this for the rest of your life,” Arnold said.

“You’re going to sit there in 20 years time when you retire, with a beer in your hand, telling everyone how you played against one of the best players in the world.

“And you’re gonna show them two mistakes but ten things you did great. You’ve gotta look at the positives and what that kid’s gonna learn out of it.”

Arnold now has to choose between Thomas Deng, Milos Degenek and Fran Karacic to fill the right back vacancy.

France's forward #10 Kylian Mbappe (L) fights for the ball with Australia's midfielder #03 Nathaniel Atkinson
France’s forward #10 Kylian Mbappe (L) fights for the ball with Australia’s midfielder #03 Nathaniel Atkinson

WHO COMES IN?

Italy-based Fran Karacic will be charged with helping restore Australia’s leaky defence – which conceded four goals to a rampant French outfit.

Midfield star Ajdin Hrustic, who has recovered from his own ankle complaint, is another strong contender to be deployed into Arnold’s starting lineup for Saturday’s clash.

“He’s getting there, he trained well (on Friday) and he’s recovered well. Mentally and physically he’s in good shape,” Arnold said at his pre-match press conference.

“Tomorrow will be a very, very physical game – Tunisia like a physical game. We’ve got to match the physical aspect of it. But he’s in good shape.”

There could also be movement up front, with Mitchell Duke under pressure from fellow strikers Jamie Maclaren and Jason Cummings to hold his spot leading the line.

Arnold said he was loath to make too many changes, however.

“The boys have pulled up fantastically well. I don’t think there’ll be too many changes,” Arnold said.

“We’ve got to put our strongest line-up out there.

“Tomorrow is a different kettle of fish (compared to the France game). We’ll be in their faces, up high, chasing and pressing, like they do and as other teams do, and being on the front foot.

“I don’t want to give away the starting lineup… Jamie’s obviously a great goalscorer, Mitchell Duke works hard.

“We’ve got some choices to make. At the end of the day I think at some stage you’ll see both of them on the field.”

Atkinson was given a tough time against arguably the best player on the planet, Kylian Mbappe, but on reflection analysis shows the 22 year-old wasn’t totally torn to shreds.

There were 14 one-on-one duels between Mbappe and Atkinson in the game, with Atkinson beaten on three occasions.

Arnold, on Thursday, had made a point of mentioning the youngster’s performance to Australian reporters.

“I just said to Nathaniel: you’re going to remember this for the rest of your life,” Arnold said.

“You’re going to sit there in 20 years’ time when you retire, with a beer in your hand, telling everyone how you played against one of the best players in the world.

“And you’re gonna show them two mistakes but ten things you did great. You’ve gotta look at the positives and what that kid’s gonna learn out of it.”

WILL GHOST OF CAHILL SPOOK SOCCEROOS OPPONENT?

Liam Fitzgibbon

Tunisia’s knowledge about the Socceroos is limited heading into Saturday night’s (AEDT) crunch World Cup clash — even to just a single iconic moment for one of their stars.

“I remember that goal from Tim Cahill … This is my last memory (of Australian teams),” defender Mohamed Drager told News Corp, referring to Cahill’s classic 2014 World Cup volley against the Netherlands.

“It’s good for us that he’s not playing anymore. (laughs).

“… Look I haven’t seen a lot of them to be honest … but I know the history of Australia is as a big team, especially in World Cups, they’re tough to play. So I expect a hard game to be honest.”

Tim Cahill’s wonder strike at the 2014 World Cup.
Tim Cahill’s wonder strike at the 2014 World Cup.

There will be no danger of complacency from Tunisia, says Drager. And that will surely also be the case from Graham Arnold’s men after the North African side held world No.10 Denmark to a scoreless draw in their opening match.

”It was good (result). I think it changed the expectations of the other teams that will face us. Maybe it was a big ‘hello’ to them and yeah, we are proud,” said Drager, who plays for Swiss side Luzern, on loan from Premier League club Nottingham Forest.

“We don’t want to make it too big as it is because it’s nil-nil. It’s not a big win. But yeah, obviously then Denmark’s one of the best teams in Europe, especially the last two years. So yeah, the expectations gets a bit higher now.”

Tunisia’s Ellyes Skhiri is challenged by Kasper Dolberg.
Tunisia’s Ellyes Skhiri is challenged by Kasper Dolberg.

Drager did not watch the Socceroos fall 4-1 to France in their opener but he is refusing to read too much into the result, especially knowing how desperate Arnold’s side will be in a meeting of the two lowest-ranked teams in the group.

“What’s the saying, backs to the wall right?,” he said.

“They don’t have a lot to lose if you know what I mean. So it will be tough for us, and like a final as well, because we didn’t want Denmark. We got just a point, so we need to get to four points because the French team will be tough.

“To be honest, I have a lot of respect for this game against Australia because I think we didn’t speak too much about Australia. All the focus was more on Denmark and the French team.

“So I hope we don’t make the mistake as well to underestimating the Australians.”

Craig Goodwin opens the scoring for Australia against France.
Craig Goodwin opens the scoring for Australia against France.

One thing is guaranteed – Saturday’s match will feel like a hostile away match for the Socceroos, with Tunisia among the most supported teams in Qatar.

There are an estimated 40,000 Tunisian nationals living in Doha, and it seemed most of them had a ticket to their opening match played amid and incredible, loud atmosphere.

“It was like a home game for us,” Drager said.

“How many people were in the stadium, say 42,000? I think it was 40,000 (Tunisians).

“It was great. It was nice. Everything went peacefully and I hope to experience this in again in the next two games as well.

“Maybe even in the next three or four games.”

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