Doha: Nathaniel Atkinson has been ruled out of the Socceroos’ crunch World Cup clash with Tunisia after picking up an ankle knock during his battle with French superstar Kylian Mbappe.
The Heart of Midlothian defender was the only player not at Australia’s training run on Friday morning (local time) and officials later confirmed his absence was due to the injury, which has not recovered in time for him to be involved in their second Group D fixture.
Nathaniel Atkinson won’t face Tunisia due to injury.Credit:Getty
Arnold was mulling over whether to stick with Atkinson after his tough night at the office in their 4-1 defeat to France as he went head-to-head with Mbappe on the right flank – or use one of Thomas Deng, Milos Degenek or Fran Karacic instead.
Now that decision has made for him, and it’s now a question of which of those three players is the best option to deploy in what looms as a ferocious showdown with Tunisia, who drew 0-0 with Denmark in their opener and have a huge number of supporters in Qatar who were willing them on at the Education City Stadium.
Only Degenek featured against Les Bleus, coming off the bench, and spoke of his “lion mentality” – and that will likely be needed in Saturday night’s (9pm AEDT) contest given both sides need to win to keep their hopes of progression alive.
Deng is the quickest and best ball-player of the trio while Karacic plays for Brescia in Italy’s defensively minded second division, and both are fresh and ready to go.
Ajdin Hrustic has also been cleared to start, with Arnold declaring he was 95 per cent fit, having struggled with an ankle injury picked up in his last outing for Hellas Verona in Serie A.
While Atkinson was easily overwhelmed by Mbappe, one of the world’s best players, but Arnold moved to defend the young Tasmanian’s performance on Thursday.
“I just said to Nathaniel Atkinson, ‘You’re going to remember this for the rest of your life, mate. 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 going to show them two mistakes, but 10 things you did great’,” he said.
“You’ve got to look at the positives, and what our kids are going to learn out of it. It’s these types of experiences that you’ve got to focus more on, and to pick them up.”
Arnold and left-back Aziz Behich are due to front the Socceroos’ official press conference in Doha at 2.15am AEDT.
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