Soccer-Neill retained as Australia skipper for Costa Rica match


SYDNEY, Nov 18 (Reuters) - Australia defender Lucas Neill has retained the captaincy for Tuesday's friendly against Costa Rica but new coach Ange Postecoglou offered no assurances he would wear the armband at the World Cup next year.

Neill was captain under previous coach Holger Osieck, who was dismissed after consecutive 6-0 friendly defeats by Brazil and France last month which followed a stuttering but successful World Cup qualifying campaign.

The former Blackburn Rovers, West Ham United and Galatasaray centreback had been expected to be relieved of his position with Postecoglou keen to wipe the slate clean in the race to make his 23-man squad in Brazil next year.

That message was clear to the 35-year-old Neill, who will surpass Peter Wilson's record by skippering his nation for the 61st time in Tuesday's friendly at Allianz Stadium.

"Right now, there is nothing else I want to concentrate on other than tomorrow night because it's vital for the manager to get off to a good start, and it's vital for me," Neill told reporters in Sydney on Monday.

"I have to perform and perform well and justify my selection. From there, we can start looking at the future.

"I have everything to prove - I always do."

Neill was as culpable as anyone in the two 6-0 defeats by France and Brazil with many pundits and fans believing his best days are beyond him and that he should have followed Osieck in departing.

The retirement of veteran goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer before Postecoglou named his squad for the friendly had only increased speculation the new manager would remove a number of the old guard, who had served so well but also contributed to the lethargic, slow tempo displays of late.


New York Red Bulls forward Tim Cahill had been tipped to take over the captaincy from Neill, now playing his club football in Japan with Omiya Ardija after signing a short-term deal in August.

"None of this is new to me," said Neill, who wrote a column for Japan's Kyodo News last week warning against a huge overhaul to the squad so close to the finals in Brazil.

"Probably because of the change (of coach), there has been a lot of hype and it's probably best left unsaid now, and we get on with concentrating on what is most important, and that is the football tomorrow."

Postecoglou opted to stick by Neill, who has frequently questioned the merits of the younger replacements pushing for his place, and said he had given little thought to the matter.

"I know it has been a fascination in terms of the decision but, to be honest, there are more important things and priorities for us at the moment," he said.

"My focus is to get this whole group up and running. So the individual things within that, such as the captaincy ... it hasn't really taken up a lot of time of my thoughts.

"With Lucas starting tomorrow night, it was pretty logical. There wasn't a decision to be made as far as I was concerned."

Postecoglou, who won back-to-back A-league titles with the Brisbane Roar before a move last year to Melbourne Victory, warned Neill that decision could change come the next round of international friendly matches in March.

"They are all one-offs - who is guaranteed about being around next time in any position?" (Writing by Patrick Johnston; editing by Amlan Chakraborty)

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