Neill eyes next Cup

VETERAN Socceroos skipper Lucas Neill believes age won't be a factor for him in the lead-up to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

A stalwart of 73 internationals, Neill, 33, told the Sunshine Coast Daily he is fighting fit and should still have plenty to offer the national team.

“Thirty-three is just a number,” the rugged centre back said.

“I've got plenty of football left in my body.

“I'm very fit for my age and I pride myself on working hard and keeping myself at a level that gives me the opportunity to play consistently at a high level.

“You won't be getting rid of me in a hurry.”

Some pundits have questioned whether the likes of Neill (who will be 36), Harry Kewell (35) and Tim Cahill (34) will be able to keep up with the next generation by 2014.

But Neill has plenty of motivation to perform well during Australia's qualifying campaign, which starts against Thailand at Suncorp Stadium on Friday.

“I've got plenty of reasons to keep playing. Obviously the fact I could go to another World Cup as captain is one,” he said.

Neill, who linked last week with United Arab Emirates champion Al Jazira after an 18-month stint at Turkish outfit Galatasaray, said he was itching to don the national colours.

“It's very exciting. It feels like yesterday we were in the World Cup and we're about to take another step, on what is hopefully a long and exciting journey,” he said.

He believes the encounter with Thailand is more significant than most.

“The most important game is the first one, because you want to get off to a very good start,” he said.

“We want to get off to a positive win, and send a message to our fellow qualifiers that we're serious again and we want to make a third World Cup on the run.”

The Socceroos have been grouped with Saudi Arabia, Oman and Thailand. The teams will play each other twice, with the top two teams moving to the next round.

And Neil reckons Australia could remain a force at World Cups for years to come, as initiatives like Optus Small Sided Football make their mark.

“It (Optus Small Sided Football) is something I'm very proud to be associated with,” he said.

“It's the grass roots of the game and it's where everybody starts. I'd like to play an important role in inspiring and helping young kids to one day realise a dream, or at least be able to express themselves on the football pitch.

“I think the idea of scaling pitches down to be similar sizes to age groups they are competing in is great, because it gives them more touches of the ball and keeps them interested in the game.

“As players get older hopefully we will have more skilful players and more people playing the game, which ultimately is good for Australia on the big stage.”

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