De­fen­sive pil­lars will come in cold against Ja­pan

Townsville Bulletin - - SPORT - TOM SMITHIES

TWO of Ange Postecoglou’s key de­fen­sive op­tions are likely to go into the Soc­ceroos’ cru­cial World Cup qual­i­fier against Ja­pan with lit­tle or no game time since the Con­fed­er­a­tions Cup in June.

Trent Sains­bury and Mark Mil­li­gan, lead­ing can­di­dates to an­chor the coach’s con­tro­ver­sial back three, have not played since Aus­tralia drew with Chile to exit the tour­na­ment on June 25.

Sains­bury has been strug­gling with a groin in­jury while Mel­bourne Vic­tory are rac­ing to get Mil­li­gan’s in­ter­na­tional clear­ance through af­ter sign­ing him on a mar­quee deal.

Though Vic­tory had tried to get his clear­ance from the UAE Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion be­fore last night’s FFA Cup tie with Bris­bane Roar, at best he would have one more out­ing be­fore Aus­tralia take on Ja­pan in Saitama on Au­gust 31.

That game, and a home tie with Thai­land five days later, will dic­tate whether the Soc- ceroos earn au­to­matic pas­sage to the World Cup in Rus­sia next year, or face a series of play- offs for a berth.

Sains­bury played in all three games at the Con­fed­er­a­tions Cup on the back of a loan spell at In­ter Mi­lan, but hasn’t played since re­turn­ing to his Chi­nese club, Jiangsu Sun­ing, af­ter the tour­na­ment.

Though his club ex­pect him to ac­crue some min­utes be­fore Postecoglou’s squad as­sem­bles in less than three weeks, it’s be­lieved he is viewed as touch and go to be match fit by Soc­ceroos of­fi­cials.

While Mil­li­gan is cer­tain to be picked as one of Postecoglou’s se­nior lieu­tenants, the un­cer­tainty is likely to open the door for Matthew Spi­ra­novic’s re­turn to the squad.

The 29- year- old suf­fered a sig­nif­i­cant quad in­jury in March and hasn’t played for Aus­tralia since last Novem­ber.

Sains­bury.

Mil­li­gan.

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