Sydney FC's Juninho set for early return
Juninho's shock recovery from injury and the return of four internationals suggest the nightmare will soon be over for Sydney FC coach Branko Culina.
Now all he needs is a win.
Juninho, a 34-year-old Brazilian World Cup winner, could return as early as Friday night for the bottom-of-the-table A-League clash with Wellington Phoenix, less than two weeks after tearing shoulder ligaments against Adelaide.
The former Middlesbrough playmaker was told he would be sidelined for at least a month but his recovery has been better than expected.
Culina will make a decision on his star playmaker after Thursday's training session.
Juninho told reporters Friday's match at the Sydney Football Stadium may be too soon and next week's trip to Queensland Roar was more realistic.
But Culina was more optimistic.
"Next week? I thought he was available this week," Culina said.
"There you go. I'll have to have another chat to him then. Whether it's this week or next week it's going to be great to have him back. He's such a great player. It's great news.
"He's a great clubman. He could have said, `Look, I need to take a rest here and make sure I'm 100 per cent', but he's willing to put himself about for the team and I respect that."
Juninho, who missed last weekend's scoreless draw in Perth, said: "(The shoulder) is feeling very well, better than I expect.
"I start to train a little bit and see if I can make the next game.
"It's always difficult when you are out and you expect to play all the games and they said it may be four to five weeks, but I don't think it will be that long.
"I have improved a lot quicker and I hope I only miss two games."
Culina is also boosted by the availability of Socceroos duo Clint Bolton and Alex Brosque, as well as Olyroos captain Mark Milligan and Ruben Zadkovich.
"Hopefully we'll have Bolton, Brosque, Milligan, Zadkovich and Juninho back and, that being the case, that's five quality players," said Culina.
"They're not just players. They are the very best players that any club can have. If we have them back I'm confident we won't have to worry too much about Wellington."
In another boost for Culina, captain Tony Popovic is progressing towards full fitness after copping a heavy knock to his lower back against the Reds and will definitely play.
Sydney will be desperate for all three points against the Phoenix, having secured only two points from their opening three games to be second last on the ladder.
Newcomers Wellington are bottom, their only point coming from a spirited draw with defending champions Melbourne in week one.