Friday, May 11, 2007

WHU's Neill tips undefeated Australia in Asian Cup

Socceroo defender Lucas Neill is confident his English Premier League club, West Ham, can avoid relegation this weekend and that Australia can remain undefeated through the AFC Asia Cup 2007 tournament in July. "I want to see another great hype created around the game," he told Michael Lynch of The Age. "I expect us to go through and be undefeated. I really think we have got a team now and a squad there to handle the conditions. Enough of us have played on the bigger stages now not to be inhibited. I really see that taking us all the way to the end ... I see ourselves as the biggest dangers. If we don't approach every game with the perfect preparation and mentality we will come unstuck. We will need to be at our very best on and off the pitch."

Neill believes that Australia's approach to tournament play should be modelled on the traditional slow starter Italy because top players like Tim Cahill and Harry Kewell have missed so much football this season and will need to bring themselves gradually up to speed.. "There will be a couple of games where they won't have to be at their 100 per cent, as long as they can start slow and by the third, fourth, fifth game start to hit form," he said of his big-name teammates. "If we can compare our tournament to the way Italy usually do it, start slowly and really be peaking towards the end."

World Cup coach Guus Hiddink had predicted a performance drop off after the excitement of Germany as his successor, Graham Arnold, rebuilt the team after the retirement of several elder statesmen of the Australian game. But Neill is delighted that does not appear to have been the case. "Guus said there were hangovers after World Cups because there's such a lot of hype and you come back to reality. But I think we have gone on to another level, we have set a benchmark. There's not a lot you have to do to get players excited by the Asia Cup. It's an opportunity to win more honours for the national team. It will be recognised as a huge tournament, one we want to win. You don't get many tournament opportunities and you grab them when you can."

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