Three of Australia's high-profile English Premier League stars may start on the substitutes' bench for the Socceroos' showdown with Japan at the Asian Cup in Hanoi tomorrow.
Coach Graham Arnold was keeping his cards close to his chest yesterday but he faces an onerous decision on whether to leave Tim Cahill, Harry Kewell and returning defender Lucas Neill on the bench for the crunch quarter-final.
Foremost in Arnold's mind are the impressive performances of his fill-ins Mark Milligan, Michael Beauchamp and David Carney in Wednesday's wholehearted 4-0 win over Thailand in Bangkok to qualify for the last eight.
Kewell and Cahill played strong cameo roles when they came off the bench against the Thais, while Neill is available again after serving a one-match ban after picking up a red card in the match against Iraq.
But the Socceroos coach made it clear to the players before the Thailand game that form would be rewarded.
Liverpool's Kewell came off the bench to score the final goal as Thailand wilted and wants to start against Japan.
"I was disappointed not to be in there from the beginning but I think I showed a bit of what I can offer when I came on, now the rest is up to the coach, it's his decision," Kewell said.
Everton midfielder Cahill was influential as a substitute, having a hand in all three of Australia's late goals.
After steadily working his way back to full fitness following a broken foot, he wants to discard the "super sub" role.
"As I keep saying, every player wants to start, and I'm no different," Cahill said.
"I'm getting stronger and stronger, and I feel ready for 90 minutes, but I'm a team player, and if I can come on and affect the game the way I did, then that's also great," he said.
West Ham defender Neill has kept to himself since his last-minute sending off against Iraq, but is known to be hurting after having his attitude publicly questioned by Arnold.
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