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Jun 1, 2008

Neill, Kennedy still chance for Mideast

World Cup heroes and dads-to-be Lucas Neill and Josh Kennedy may yet play a part in the Socceroos' Middle East tour of duty despite not being named in Australia's 26-man travelling squad.

Coach Pim Verbeek on Monday kept the door open for defender and regular captain Neill and beanpole striker Kennedy to play in the World Cup qualifiers against Iraq in Dubai on Saturday and Qatar in Doha on June 14.

Both players' partners are expecting babies this month, but Verbeek said Neill and Kennedy may be used for one match each in the Middle East.

Kennedy is also recovering from an ankle injury sustained in training with his German club Karlsruhe in April.

But Verbeek revealed the 196cm striker may be unveiled as a shock weapon off the bench against Iraq on Saturday.

And Neill is pencilled in to join the Socceroos the day after the Iraq game, with partner Lindsey expected to give birth to twins some time this week.

"We are also keeping a very close eye on Josh Kennedy because he's doing very well in his recovery," Verbeek said.

"If you can have a player like him on the bench and he is almost fit and ready for 30 minutes, then I will look at this option.

"Lucas will be with us from Sunday - we're planning to let him come then.

"They expect the babies to come this week, but we don't want to put pressure on him and his wife.

"If he arrives on June 8, he will have a week to prepare for the Qatar game and then the China game (in Sydney on June 22)."

Verbeek named a bigger squad than expected on Monday, admitting he was concerned five of his players are walking a suspension tightrope.

Two yellow cards in the group matches mean an automatic one-match ban.

Midfielders Vince Grella, Luke Wilkshire and Brett Holman, defender David Carney and goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer have all received yellow cards so far and will tip over the edge if booked again.

"With five yellow cards, worst case scenario is we could miss five players in the game against Qatar," Verbeek said.

"We think it's easier to have players already in the Middle East so they can get used to the climate."

Melbourne Victory striker Archie Thompson, who is on the comeback trail after a knee injury, was included in the squad for two matches which are likely to be played in sweltering 35-degree heat.

Thompson has played just one and a half matches since recovering from damaged knee ligaments sustained playing for Australia against China in March.

All 18 players who were in the squad that beat Iraq 1-0 at Suncorp Stadium on Sunday have been included.

Several Olyroos have also been included in the squad, which leaves for Dubai on Monday night.

Australia are top of their Asian qualifying group after Sunday night's win with seven points.

They need to finish in the top two to advance to the next stage of World Cup qualifying which starts later this year.

Socceroos: Michael Beauchamp, Mark Bresciano, Nick Carle, David Carney, Ante Covic, Chris Coyne, Jason Culina, Bruce Djite, Brett Emerton, Vince Grella, James Holland, Brett Holman, Mile Jedinak, Harry Kewell, Scott McDonald, Jade North, Michael Petkovic, Mark Schwarzer, Matthew Spiranovic, Archie Thompson, Nikolai Topor-Stanley, James Troisi, Carl Valeri, Rodrigo Vargas, Luke Wilkshire, Ruben Zadkovich.

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