Mile Jedinak © Gallo Images
Australia may be without injured captain Mile Jedinak and a clutch of first-choice players for crunch World Cup qualifiers against Iraq and United Arab Emirates next month, coach Ange Postecoglou has said.
Defensive midfielder Jedinak has been battling a groin injury sustained with English Championship club Aston Villa and is in a race to be fit for selection against Iraq in Tehran on March 23 and the United Arab Emirates in Sydney five days later.
"He's touch and go," Postecoglou told reporters. "He's missed a lot of football so far and we're two weeks away from selecting the squad. We'd need him to play at some point between now and selection to be a chance."
Australia, held to an embarrassing 2-2 draw against lowly Thailand in their last outing in Bangkok, sit third in Group B of Asian qualifying behind Saudi Arabia, who lead second-placed Japan on goal difference.
The top two teams qualify automatically for Russia in 2018, with the third-placed team required to win regional and intercontinental playoffs to advance.
Postecoglou has already lost midfielder Tom Rogic to an ankle problem and goalkeeper Adam Federici to a knee cartilage injury.
Asia-based stalwarts, including defender Mathew Spiranovic, winger Robbie Kruse and striker Nathan Burns, are also in doubt for Postecoglou's squad as they lack match fitness during the off-seasons in China and Japan.
Switzerland-based striker Tomi Juric has also struggled for fitness after an injury-blighted season for FC Luzern, while Postecoglou said back-up forward Apo Giannou would need games under his belt for Guangzhou R&F to be considered.
"Looking at March, you would like (Juric) to get some game time if possible to feel confident about how he would perform," he said.
"If (Giannou) doesn't play the first couple of rounds he will be touch and go. We have always been a bit light in that position, and I think that will be the case for March."