By Iain Strachan
Ange Postecoglou has confirmed a hamstring strain will cause Mark Milligan to miss the Socceroos' second match of the World Cup against the Netherlands on Wednesday (Thursday 2am AEST) after he missed the pre-game training session in Porto Alegre.
The Melbourne Victory captain started the 3-1 Group B loss to Chile and both of his country's warm-up games against South Africa and Croatia, meaning he was almost certain to keep his place if he had been fit for the showdown with the Dutch at Estadio Beira-Rio.
However, Australia are also without Ivan Franjic due to a torn hamstring and Postecoglou revealed on Tuesday he had been considering the versatile Milligan as a potential replacement at right-back.
It now appears Ryan McGowan, who came on for Franjic against Chile, is almost certain to start on the right side of the defence against the Netherlands.
The coach ruled out the possibility of Mark Bresciano dropping back from number 10 to play in holding midfield alongside Mile Jedinak.
That leaves Postecoglou with four players to choose from as Milligan's replacement.
James Holland appears to be leading the race after starting the 1-1 draw with South Africa in Sydney last month and the 2-1 defeat to Croatia in Salvador. The Austria Vienna man has similar levels of energy to Milligan but hasn't always shined in a green and gold shirt, particularly under former coach Holger Osieck.
Matt McKay is also energetic and well-known to Postecoglou from their A-League championship-winning time together at Brisbane Roar. However, the 31-year-old struggled when he came on against Bafana Bafana and was reportedly close to being cut from the 27-man travelling squad, suggesting he may not be quite the coach's favourite some have made him out to be.
Massimo Luongo is technically gifted and highly rated by the coaching staff. He impressed in the unofficial practice match against Parana Clube but didn't receive any game-time in the South Africa or Croatia games. Still only 21, this World Cup may have arrived too soon for Postecoglou to through the Swindon Town youngster in at the deep end.
Oliver Bozanic is capable of playing in both attacking midfield and a holding role and did well as a playmaker when he came on against South Africa. It would be a surprise if Postecoglou opted for the Luzern player in a deeper midfield role ahead of a specialist such as Holland.
One thing is certain. Whoever is chosen to take on the Netherlands, they will have a huge task in suppressing Louis van Gaal's rampant Oranje.