Recuperating Tomi Juric is back up and running for the Socceroos to boost his FIFA World Cup hopes - and most likely dash those of standby striker Jamie Maclaren.
The Australia target man has featured in the last two in-house training games at the team’s training base in Antalya, Turkey after being sidelined for the previous 10 days with a knee niggle which had placed question marks over his fitness for Russia.
But FC Luzern’s Juric, 26, appears to have made a timely recovery ahead of Australia’s penultimate World Cup warm-up against the Czech Republic - coach Bert van Marwijk’s third game in charge - in St Polten, Austria on Friday night (AEST).
While Juric’s rebound to fitness will be a relief to van Marwijk, it also represents a potentially cruel twist of fate for Maclaren, whose absence from the 26-man squad selected for the boot camp-style Turkish torture test raised more than just a few eyebrows.
His eight goals in 11 starts while on loan at Hibernian - notched over just 893 minutes of playing time - had him down as a certainty in many people’s books for, not just Turkey, but the final 23-man squad to be named for Russia on Monday.
However - despite a paucity of in-form strikers - van Marwijk opted to pick just two recognised central attackers in Juric and veteran Tim Cahill.
Maclaren, who remains on the books of 2.Bundesliga side Darmstadt, was plucked off a beach in Dubai on Sunday for an unexpected reprieve.
At that point he was still licking his wounds from his initial omission, but was handed a last-gasp lifeline as Juric struggled with his injury.
And now it appears that last semblance of hope is set to be extinguished.
His arrival in camp, according to fellow attacking weapon Andrew Nabbout, ramped up competition for places and created an extra layer of intensity.
“You’ve seen the kind of quality Jamie brings and it’s good that he’s here - it brings a little bit of extra competition," Nabbout said this week.
Though Maclaren will travel to Austria for the Czech clash, it’s unlikely - barring a quantum shift in van Marwijk’s attacking approach or another setback for Juric - that he will make the final 23 who travel to Hungary on June 10 for the final warm-up before boarding the plane to their tournament base in Kazan, Russia.
Maclaren was known to be bitterly upset to have missed out the first time - this could be the cruellest cut of all.