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Monday, 10 February, 2003, 08:51 GMT
Neill predicts Socceroos success
Blackburn's Lucas Neill
Australian football has scored its share of own goals

Blackburn's Australian international Lucas Neill believes the Socceroos can be the surprise team of the World Cup finals in 2006.

Australia's last two qualification campaigns have seen the national team fall at the last hurdle to first Iran and then Uruguay.

As a football team we need to really confirm our status as a nation on the world stage

Australian defender Lucas Neill

The Socceroos last qualified for the World Cup in 1974.

However, qualification for the 2006 tournament will see Oceania gain direct entry to the finals in Germany, with Australia now strong favourites to represent the region.

If Australia can overcome that regional challenge, Neill is confident Frank Farina's team can be as successful as South Korea, who reached the World Cup semi-finals in 2002.

"I don't think that it is out of reach to be successful," Neill told this website ahead of the international friendly against England at Upton Park.

"We could do something like South Korea and America in the next World Cup, it's just a matter of getting there.

"That is why we need these games like this against England. Tough and competitive games we are not supposed to win on paper.

"These are the kind of teams that we need to test ourselves against all the time.

"That is why we will be going out to put in the best performance to justify England playing us.

"That way we become more appealing for other teams to play us because think we are a competitive nation to play against us.

Australia's John Aloisi stands dejected as Alejandro Lembo celebrates Uruguay's qualfiication for the 2002 World Cup
Australia have a tradition of falling at the last hurdle

"That is the only way we can raise our level, because unfortunately Fiji and the Solomon Islands are not really going to do it for us."

Australia's failure on the international stage rankles because in other sports such as cricket, rugby union and rugby league, swimming and tennis, the country has a tradition of producing outstanding teams and individuals.

So much so that Neill admitted that the football team is the "ugly duckling" of Australian sport.

"Yeah, definitely," added the Blackburn defender. "We are world champions at pretty much every other sport.

"As a football team we need to really confirm our status as a nation on the world stage and the only way we can prove that is by reaching the World Cup.

"Unfortunately we have been tripping at the last hurdle."

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