Dubai: Graham Arnold's faith in the power of positive thinking is about to be put to the ultimate test. With Martin Boyle ruled out of the Asian Cup due to injury, what was an already tough assignment for the Socceroos is now starting to look like mission impossible.
Boyle was supposed to be Australia's new attacking saviour, announcing himself as such with a two-goal haul against Lebanon just days after setting foot in the country for the first time in his life.
But after taking a hit to his left knee against Oman on Sunday, the 25-year-old has been sidelined indefinitely and sent back to his native Scotland for treatment. He joins Aaron Mooy and Daniel Arzani on an increasingly talented injury list for Australia.
It doesn't stop there. Mathew Leckie (hamstring) is still not in the clear and Tom Rogic, while able to play, is carrying a knee injury. Never before have the Socceroos suffered so many injury blows to so many key players before a major tournament.
It's an unmitigated disaster but Arnold is looking on the bright side. "There is one positive out of it, that it's happened now and didn't happen after the first round. Then we're going through the rest of the tournament with 22 players," he said.
An almost bullish commitment to staying upbeat in public has been Arnold's modus operandi since undergoing a personal transformation two years ago at Sydney FC. With the help of mental guru Mike Conway and the 'coach whisperer' Bradley Charles Stubbs, Arnold finds silver linings in even the darkest of storm clouds and tries to speak things into existence.
Some see it as quackery. Occasionally, though, it works in breeding the unbowed confidence required to achieve success. Socceroos fans can only pray this will be one of those times.
Arnold informed the playing group of Boyle's injury status on Tuesday. Heads would have dropped once they heard the news, but he said: "It's my job to keep them up. These types of things bring the group together, they make the group stronger. We will keep the energy high."
In terms of football, Arnold maintains nothing much will change. The front three system will remain the same; the only difference is the personnel.
It's understood forward Apostolos Giannou will replace Boyle in Australia's 23-man squad. Giannou has been in good form for his Cypriot club AEK Larnaka this season with four goals in 22 appearances in all competitions – three of them coming in the UEFA Europa League. But he will surely sit behind strikers Andrew Nabbout and Jamie Maclaren in the pecking order.
Robbie Kruse, Chris Ikonomidis, Awer Mabil, Nabbout and even Jackson Irvine are capable of playing in the wide attacking position Boyle would have occupied in Sunday's Group B opener against Jordan. All of those names bar Kruse got on the scoresheet in the 5-0 rout of Oman. "We've still got some great options," Arnold said.
Ikonomidis will surely relish the opportunity to play a greater role in the tournament. The 23-year-old former Lazio prospect has been in sensational touch for Perth Glory in the A-League and appears to have had no issues carrying that through to the Socceroos.
Kruse's 70 caps of experience, meanwhile, will also take on increased importance in these circumstances – although he has only just recovered from a fitness issue of his own, having suffered a groin strain while playing for his German club VfL Bochum in November.
As for Leckie, a decision on his participation won't be made until Thursday or Friday, but he remains a strong chance of featuring in the tournament's knockout stages – assuming Australia gets there.
Arnold insisted the Oman game was a pointer to what his side is capable of, dismissing suggestions the opposition was too weak to draw anything of substance from it.
"Oman have qualities, we just didn't let them use them," he said. "There were periods in the game where we did let them use it and it showed they've got some qualities. But we're not allowing these teams to play.
"If you want to talk about a top team, we did it to South Korea. We harassed them, chased them, we were on the front foot and we go out every game expecting to win every game.
"They've just got to believe in themselves and that's my job, to get them believing. Once the believing happens you create miracles, and miracles will happen."
At this rate, it might actually take one for the Socceroos to win the Asian Cup.
Vince is a sports reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.
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