World Cup squad commit to Asian Cup qualifiers

Australian fans can expect to see the bulk of the World Cup squad play a part in the upcoming Asian Cup qualifiers that start in mid-August, according World Cup hero Lucas Neill.

Australian fans can expect to see the bulk of the World Cup squad play a part in the upcoming Asian Cup qualifiers that start in mid-August, according World Cup hero Lucas Neill.

Both Neill and Tim Cahill said they are keen to see Australia qualify for the 2007 Asian Cup and keep the momentum moving forward that was built up by the terrific showing in Germany.

While they acknowledged that this could cause problems with their clubs, especially with matches played on non-FIFA dates, both said they will be putting their hands up to play in the majority of five matches to be played between August and November.

“We-ve all collectively got together whilst we were in Germany and talked about the fact that after the World Cup that the priority will to qualify for the Asia Cup,” Neill said while back in Sydney for a quick stop aimed at saying thank you to the thousands of fans, who supported the team in Germany.

“It-s our responsibility again to make sure that we get the team there. Since beating Japan (at the World Cup finals), I can confidently say that we can consider ourselves one of the favourites to win the Asia Cup.

“So from now until then, it-s all about getting the job done and the best way to do that is to keep the best possible squad available.”

With three of the five games to be played back in Australia, including two in the space of two weeks, the players believe that while coming back for all games is going to be difficult, with careful planning and organisation, the Socceroos will be able to put out highly competitive sides without featuring the full compliment of the first team.

“We-ve all talked about playing the three out of the four games and splitting the main structure or basis of the team across the board of those four or five games,” said Neill, who many are saying might be the next captain, if Mark Viduka does decide to retire from international football.

“The unfortunate thing is that some of them don-t fall on FIFA dates, so it-s going to be very difficult with the club versus country row. There is no greater honour than to play for your country, but unfortunately we are always piggy-in-the-middle, where we are trying to satisfy both parties.”

Neill acknowledges that the first game of the five against Kuwait on August 16 in Sydney will be problematic for many players, especially those in England, with the start of the English Premier League competition just three days later.

“The first game (against Kuwait), it-s going to be a real tough one for us and it-s going to have to be a decision that our domestic clubs are going to have to make. For me and Tim personally, it will three days before our first league game of the season and you ask any player, he wants to play in the first game of the season for his club, because if the team gets off to a good start and your not in the first team, a guy might take your position; he might keep his position and you might not find yourself playing anymore.

“So it-s going to be a tough one.”

Cahill concurred with Neill, but was quick to point out that the team wants to build on the success of the World Cup, starting with the Asia Cup qualifiers.

“The sleeping giant has arisen now and it-s all about how we take this momentum now into the future,” the Everton midfielder said. “We-ve established that football is definitely the most played sport in terms of youngsters in Australia, before we even went to the World Cup.

“We-ve got the Asia Cup coming up now; it-s so difficult for us to keep coming back time and time again, but when asked we-ll be back as much as we can.”

“I think Australia has to step forward with this and the only thing we can do is play as many games as possible and hopefully they are going to be in front of the Australian public, which is what they deserve.”

Australia currently tops its Asia Cup qualifying group, after its opening round 3-1 win against Bahrain in February.

It-s kicks off the remaining five games in Sydney on August 16 against Kuwait, followed by another match in Adelaide two weeks later (August 31) against Lebanon. It will then travel straight to play Kuwait for their match on September 6.

The final two matches will be against Bahrain in Sydney on October 11, while the final match will be against Lebanon on November 15 in Lebanon.

The finals will be held in July 2007, in four different countries - Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia.