The Socceroos have given their strongest indication yet that Martin Boyle’s World Cup is in serious jeopardy, flying Marco Tilio to Doha as a potential injury replacement a week before the start of their campaign.
Australia’s camp insist Boyle can still overcome the knee injury sustained while playing for Hibernian a fortnight ago, but the Scotland-born winger – one of his adopted country’s key players – was absent from training for a second day running on Tuesday evening (Wednesday morning AEDT ).
In his place was Tilio, who was not selected in Graham Arnold’s 26-man squad but has been called up on standby in the event Boyle is not ready come the eve of the tournament.
Fifa regulations stipulate World Cup teams are allowed to replace an injured or ill player up until 24 hours before their opening match. Australia play France next Tuesday night (6am Wednesday AEDT).
Boyle, who has five goals from his 19 caps, has been under a cloud since the end of last month when he hurt his knee during his club’s 3-0 Scottish Premiership win against St Mirren.
His Socceroos teammate and Hearts midfielder, Cameron Devlin, clearly articulated the 29-year-old’s importance. “Over the years everyone can see what a big player he is,” Devlin said.
“He does it week in, week out over in Scotland for Hibs. He’s been a massive player for them and takes it into his country, Australia. He’d be a massive loss, but I think it’s just precautionary because we’ve got the first game in a week. But if he wasn’t to play he’d be a massive loss.”
Tilio, 21, was a notable omission when Australia’s World Cup squad was announced last week, having been considered on the cusp but lacking in consistent enough form and minutes for Melbourne City to warrant his selection.
At the time the City head coach, Patrick Kisnorbo, said “the hype” around the precocious forward “hasn’t helped” and added: “Every week we get asked about Marco. It’s only normal that sometimes people listen.”
Every Socceroos player is now on the ground in Qatar, after the final few arrived late on Monday night local time – before Tilio materialized on Tuesday morning.
Even with the full complement, Tim Cahill had his boots on again, participating in warmup drills at the $1.3bn Aspire Academy, Australia’s all-inclusive base at which the former striker is chief sports officer.
Cahill, while long retired, remains the last Socceroo to score at a World Cup from open play, via a head-turning volley against the Netherlands at Brazil 2014. Devlin, 24, met him for the first time on Monday.
“I spoke to him after training yesterday,” Devlin said. “For someone like me to pick his brain … to have him here and ask him questions, if I can make myself a better player by listening to him, I’ll take every opportunity to do that.
“He joined in training yesterday so that was pretty cool to be up alongside him with the boots on. Legend for Australian sport, so just to be around him is super surreal.”