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Oct 13, 2009

Australia must go to Asian Cup: Neill

Skipper Lucas Neill has targeted the qualifier against Oman in Melbourne on Wednesday as the turnaround in Australia's fortunes for the 2011 Asian Cup.

The Socceroos have paid for a low-key approach to their opening two qualification games and are nestling at the bottom of Group B behind pool leaders Oman in the regional championship.

While Pim Verbeek's team were among the first to make next year's World Cup, they now face a must-win game and need further points in the return leg in Muscat on November 14 to revive their Asian Cup chances.

The Aussies fielded a home-based side and were upset 1-0 by Kuwait in Canberra in March after drawing 0-0 with Indonesia in Jakarta last January.

Verbeek, coming off a scoreless draw with world number three the Netherlands in Sydney on Saturday, is not taking any risks this time, fielding all his European stars against Oman.

Neill, who recently switched from West Ham United to Everton, said Australia had to get themselves out of a "sticky situation."

"It's a big game because we haven't won anything yet in the Asian Cup qualifiers and we need to win this," Neill said.

"The teams that played the two games before have put us in a sticky situation. I say that as captain of Australia, but we're all in this together.

"We need to get ourselves out of this sticky situation and we want to go to the Asian Cup."

Neill said Australia, as the top-ranked nation in Asia, must go to the Asian Cup finals in Qatar in January, 2011.

"We can't go to the World Cup and not go to the Asian Cup, which is in our own region, so we have to put that right," he said.

"We have to dominate our region and the only way we can do that is to go to the Asian Cup and try to win it."

Verbeek, who has previously coached South Korea and the United Arab Emirates, knows Oman will come with a different game plan from the Dutch.

"I think Oman will come with one striker and will play defensively with nine players," he said.

"So they will play in their own penalty box, waiting until they can counter-attack.

"Oman is a totally different team (to the Dutch). More unpredictable, waiting for one chance, so we have to combine and be patient and try to score an early goal," he added.

Oman have regrouped under Claude Le Roy since the veteran Frenchman took charge in July last year and they have had six friendlies in the past eight months as preparation for the Aussie double.

Oman have lost only twice, against Bosnia-Herzegovina and Egypt, and there have been wins against Saudi Arabia and Senegal.

The Australians scraped home with a 1-1 draw the last time the two teams met in a group match in the 2007 Asian Cup in Bangkok.

The Socceroos were spared their blushes when Everton star Tim Cahill produced a last-gasp equaliser.

"The match against Australia will not be easy, especially because they will be playing with all their overseas-based players for the first time in the qualifiers," Le Roy said. "This match will be tactical."

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