Lucas Neill: big Socceroos boots to fill

March 24, 2013
By Doug Conway

Lucas Neill has been a Socceroo for almost half of his lifetime, and a fixture for a decade.

Small wonder his teammates will find it strange without him against Oman on Tuesday.

"Lucas has always been there," said fellow defender Jade North, often a partner in central defence with the 35-year-old veteran, who debuted in 1996.

"He is a very cool head at the back, a very experienced player who is respected throughout the team.

"So this is a game where he will be missed."

Neill, suspended for the World Cup qualifier against Oman, will watch from the stands at ANZ Stadium, thanks to the fact he is now a local player with Sydney FC after a stellar career in England, Turkey and the Middle East.

But the Australian skipper's absence also opens up opportunities for others to catch coach Holger Osieck's eye.

North is one of them, along with fellow A-League players Michael Thwaite and Mark Milligan, and overseas-based Rhys Williams and Ryan McGowan.

"It opens up the door for a few of the boys in defensive positions," said the Brisbane Roar defender.

"But Holger keeps his cards close to his chest. He likes to keep us on our toes, so it is hard to know what the line-up will be."

North has played previous World Cup qualifiers at right back, and has filled central defence in his stint in Japan's J-League and in Brisbane, but isn't bothered where he plays for Australia.

"Either/or, I'm comfortable," he said.

After missing a few Socceroo camps through injury, he said it was "just great to be back in the mix".