Australia must start Tomi Juric or Daniel Arzani, not Tim Cahill, in must-win clash
When Australia drew 1-1 with Denmark on Thursday, despite having their opponents on the ropes throughout the second half, they lost more than just control of their own World Cup fate.
Tireless striker Andrew Nabbout was forced off with a dislocated shoulder in the 75th minute, which was a major blow to coach Bert van Marwijk and his hard-working team.
Nabbout has been a vital cog in Van Marwijk's game plan in the tournament thus far, leading the defensive line from the front, pressing and harrying defenders endlessly. Alhough he is yet to score a goal, the 25-year-old's work-rate has been second to none, and will be incredibly difficult to replace.
That said, Nabbout has not yet ruled himself out of Tuesday's do-or-die clash with Peru -- although that is in stark contrast to Van Marwijk's take on the injury.
Realistically, the Dutch manager will be examining all of his options right up until kickoff at the Fisht Stadium.
Those options are led by FC Luzern striker Tomi Juric, who himself is returning from injury and was only just ruled fit in time for the final World Cup squad announcement.
Juric has come off the bench in Australia's two Group C games to date, making him the likely candidate to get the nod in the starting XI if Nabbout is, in fact, ruled out. However, Juric has made so little impact in the 40 minutes of time he has been given, that Van Marwijk may be looking to completely shake things up.
Juric's patchy form since his comeback from a knee injury, allied with the Socceroos' desperate need to win to make the round of 16, could offer the perfect platform for Australia's most tantalising prospect to make his international starting debut: Daniel Arzani, who set the Samara Arena alight in his cameo performance off the bench against Denmark. The Melbourne City starlet changed the complexion of the game in the second half with his ability to skip by any defender and whip in crosses for his teammates.
Not only would a starting spot reward Arzani for his enterprising play -- as well as giving the 19-year-old invaluable experience at the highest level -- having him start wide on the left would allow Robbie Kruse to play in a more central role. It would be an unexpected move that could be beneficial for both players, and would open things up for Australia to play in a more attacking manner.
Kruse has come in for excessive criticism in recent times, largely because of hitting wayward crosses and losing the ball when in attacking positions. However, nobody -- not even his harshest critics -- could deny that Kruse is one of Australia's greatest threats to get in behind defensive lines.
That ability to make runs beyond the last defender could be important for Australia in a must-win match against Peru, as it will stretch their lines far more than having a target man like Juric up front. That, in turn, creates more space for Australia's best players, midfielders Aaron Mooy and Tom Rogic.
It seems counterintuitive to move Kruse -- who has struggled to produce the final ball on a few occasions -- into an even more attacking role, but it may just open things up enough to bring out the best in those around him. And, if the Socceroos are to overcome world No. 11 Peru, they'll need to have Mooy, Rogic, Arzani and man-of-the-match against Denmark, Mat Leckie, at their absolute best.
It's just one option which Van Marwijk will have to consider. Another is to bring Jamie Maclaren into the starting side with a view to him making darting runs early to provide a counter-attacking option.
However, Van Marwijk hasn't been too adventurous in his use of personnel, sticking with the same 14 players in both World Cup matches, making it appear less likely that he would bring a player outside of the current rotation straight into the starting lineup.
All of which brings us to Tim Cahill. Australia's greatest goal scorer may have been shocked that he wasn't brought off the bench either against France or Denmark -- especially after Nabbout got injured. Indeed, many of his countrymen were surprised.
Calls for Cahill to start against Peru, though, are off the mark. The 38-year-old only played 70 minutes all season for Millwall, so to suggest he could replace the work-rate and energy of Nabbout for 60 or 70 minutes is simply unfair. Cahill is a legend of Australian football, no doubt, but at this stage of his career, he is best served coming off the bench to pounce on opportunities inside the penalty area.
That could come in handy for the final 20 minutes on Tuesday, as the Socceroos must win to have any hope of progressing beyond the group stage. If scores are level after 70 minutes, expect Van Marwijk to release the shackles and opt for a direct attacking approach -- something which would suit the aerial expertise of Cahill perfectly.
Whichever way he goes, it will be a tough decision for Van Marwijk. And, he must do so knowing that if France and Denmark draw, or if Denmark wins, then Australia will be knocked out regardless, even if they happen to thrash Peru.
A lack of clinical finishing so far has cost Van Marwijk's men the chance to be the masters of their own destiny. It will be fascinating to see how he sets his team up to attack when World Cup survival is on the line.
Rob Brooks writes about Australian football and the A-League for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter: @RobNJBrooks