Australia not at World Cup yet, warns Neill

NICK MULVENNEY
Last updated 17:47 17/06/2013
Lucas Neill
Getty Images
LUCAS NEILL: "The fact is we have one game [against Iraq], one win and then we can start talking about all the dreams coming true.

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Captain Lucas Neill has warned Australia that football can shatter dreams as well as make them come true, meaning Tuesday's seemingly straightforward World Cup qualifier against Iraq at Sydney's Olympic Stadium is no formality.

With Iraq already out of the World Cup running and having lost two of their most experienced players to retirement, Australia are expected to win comfortably and claim their ticket to Brazil for next year's finals.

But Neill, who represented his country at the 2006 and 2010 World Cup finals, said his 17 years as a professional had taught him to take absolutely nothing for granted.

"Everybody is very calm, the manager and the senior players have made sure nobody is talking about dancing the Samba, nobody's in Brazil yet," the 35-year-old central defender told a news conference on Monday.

"The fact is we have one game, one win and then we can start talking about all the dreams coming true.

"We are going to play the game and not the occasion, it's a simple as that, you can all think about the reward, it's up to us to get that reward," he added.

"If you've played the game for a long time, you know football can bite you on the bum at any time ... we know football can often be a dream-breaker."

German coach Holger Osieck has yet to name his side but said all his players were fit and is widely expected to keep faith with the team who drew 1-1 in Japan and beat Jordan 4-0 last weekend to revive Australia's qualifying campaign.

"It's going to be a tough call on Tuesday, we know we are going to be challenged and we know we are going to have to be at our best to make it happen," he said.

"[But] I'm pretty sure that we're going to have another good game tomorrow because everybody is 100 per cent focused, we have a great crowd, we play at home and I think there's a lot of positives, motivating positives - it's going to happen."

CROWD HELP

While trying to keep his team mates calm, Neill urged the 80,000 sell-out crowd to get fully involved, as they did at the same stadium in 2005 when Australia beat Uruguay on penalties to reach the World Cup finals for the first time in 32 years.

"Iraq is a team that is not going to be intimidated, they are a team of fighters, arguably because of the nature of the way they have been brought up," he said.

"It's going to be difficult and we have to get into them. The way the crowd can help is buying singing the national anthem the way they did against Uruguay all those years ago.

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"Hairs standing up on the back of the neck stuff and hopefully that gives the boys the buzz to go out and start really well."

Iraq's hopes of a place at the World Cup disappeared with a 1-0 loss to group winners Japan in Doha last week and striker Younis Mahmoud, captain of the 2007 Asian Cup-winning team, and experienced playmaker Nashat Akram both immediately retired.

Coach Vladimir Petrovic will have no choice but to blood youngsters but goalkeeper Noor Sabri, one of the few survivors of that 2007 triumph, said the political situation at home ensured the team would be highly motivated.

"Regardless of what happened last week, we have motivation to do the best for our nation," Noor said through a translator.

"As you know, we have a lot of pressure from fans, this is the only thing that makes them happy.

"So we always think of them and regardless of whether it's a friendly match or a qualifier, we're out to carry the name of our country the best we can."

Even though the Iraqi side will be largely an unknown quantity, Neill eloquently explained why the Socceroos would be treating them with a healthy respect.

"There are no easy games, football on any level needs to be respected," he said.

"Just because you don't know anything about them, or you are no educated about them, doesn't mean they're not good." 

- Reuters

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