Leckie break as Socceroos star in starting mix
MATHEW Leckie could help the Socceroos unlock the United Arab Emirates from the get-go as coach Graham Arnold shakes up his Asian Cup quarter-final starting XI.
And Andrew Nabbout might make a miraculous return to the bench if he pulls up from a final training session with no pain in his troublesome groin.
Leckie is shaping as one of up to five potential changes for Saturday morning's (EDT) semi-final push against the host nation after he successfully returned from a hamstring injury to light up Australia's toiling attack against round-of-16 opponents Uzbekistan.
The Hertha Berlin forward played twice as long as expected in a match that went to extra-time, before slotting the winning penalty.
Despite that, Arnold said he had "pulled up great".
And, even if he only lasts 60 minutes, he may look to start him in a front-two pairing with a view to pinching an early goal and opening up the game.
"He could be," Arnold said.
"The question is, I planned for him to play 30 minutes and he ended up playing 60.
"It's how he's recovered from that 60 which will decide whether he starts or comes off the bench again.
"When there's a short turnaround, you need to wait until more or less tomorrow night before you make any of those decisions and see how they pull up."
Nabbout, meanwhile, returned to training on Wednesday and is said to have completed the session pain free.
The 26-year-old forward had been absent from training since re-injuring his groin on the eve of the final group game against Syria.
And though his scan results returned with no further damage, Arnold said as late as Tuesday that Nabbout had still been feeling pain when doing speed work or making lateral movements.
But if he gets through a final session without it bothering him he could find himself back on the bench.
"Nabbout's looking decent," Arnold said.
"He's looking quite good as well, he'll probably be considered for selection back on the bench.
"He's recovered very well. Medical staff have done a great job with him, as they have done with Leckie.
"He's feeling much better after three or four days' complete rest ... it's a question of 24 hours to wait and see what we can do."
Josh Risdon has also recovered from his own groin issue, and the incumbent right-back might be thrown straight back in given his in-form replacement Rhyan Grant picked up his first yellow card of the tournament against Uzbekistan.
It appears likely Arnold will revamp his formation to deploy two strikers and two attacking midfielders, partly to deal with the absence of suspended Tom Rogic.
Apostolos Giannou has pressed his case for a start in one of those two top positions with strong form off the bench, though his promotion would likely come at the expense of Jamie Maclaren.
Captain Mark Milligan and Jackson Irvine would be bets to retain their defensive midfield positions, though it's less clear who'll fill the two No.10 roles.
It could signal an opportunity for Massimo Luongo and Robbie Kruse, both experienced campaigners who've been relegated to the bench and are fresher than most for it.
Chris Ikonomidis and Awer Mabil can both also play there - as can Irvine and Mustafa Amini - though the youngsters might be due for a rest after a quieter-than-usual shift against Uzbekistan, and with one eye on a potential semi-final date with South Korea or Qatar.