Australia Socceroos vs Tunisia, team news, squads, Ajdin Hrustic, preview, Nathaniel Atkinson, injury,

Socceroos defender Nathaniel Atkinson has been ruled out of Australia’s second World Cup match against Tunisia on Saturday (9pm AEDT).

Atkinson sustained an ankle injury in the 4-1 defeat against France and was unable to train with the team today in Doha. He was pictured with ice strapped to his ankle after the loss.

The right-back was repeatedly exposed by French superstar Kylian Mbappe – in part due to a lack of defensive reinforcements – sparking speculation he could be dropped ahead of the crucial meeting with Tunisia.

Given the three-day turnaround between group stage matches (and the shorter lead-up to the tournament), players are facing limited recovery and rehabilitation schedules, with many teams expected to make significant changes to their starting line-ups.

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Fellow full-back Fran Karacic is the obvious alternative on the right, but News Corp’s Adam Peacock previously predicted that veteran Milos Degenek – usually a centre-back, but with right-half experience – could be shifted to the role. Versatile defender Thomas Deng is another alternative, but is reportedly struggling with a hamstring problem.

Arnold repeatedly supported Atkinson in the aftermath of the match against France, despite his difficult World Cup debut.

Arnold said, “I just said to Nathaniel Atkinson, ‘You’re going to remember this for the rest of your life, mate. You’ll be sitting there in 20 years 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.”

“You have to look at the positives and what the boy is going to learn from it. It is these kinds of experiences that you need to focus more on and pick them up.

HRUSTIC IS GOING TO START

The Socceroos are ready for a big boost with playmaker Ajdin Hrustic fit to start against Tunisia on Saturday night.

The attacking midfielder made 20 appearances for the Socceroos and was a key figure in qualifying for the Qatar tournament, including scoring the winner against the UAE to secure the Socceroos a place in the play-offs against Peru.

An ankle ligament injury at his top Italian club Hellas Verona last month put Hrustic’s World Cup dream in doubt and he was not fit enough to take to the field against France.

But the wily left footer has been assessed as 95 per cent fit by Socceroos boss Graham Arnold.

“And the other 5% doesn’t matter,” Arnold joked. “[Hrustic] can start. We’ll see how he’s doing… and get him ready to go.”

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