Neill relishes Japan rivalry

Australia captain Lucas Neill is disappointed he will not be squaring up against Japan star Shinji Kagawa in the Asian Cup final on Saturday.

Kagawa broke a bone in his foot in his side’s penalty shootout victory over South Korea in the semi-finals, and the Galatasaray centre-back said he had hoped the Socceroos could show their worth against Japan’s best line-up.

“As a team, we feel very sorry for Kagawa, he’s a talented player and we love to compete against the best,” Neill said.

“So it’s unfortunate for Japan that he’s not playing but we have to take that as a bonus.”

Neill said previous clashes between the two countries – including a landmark victory for Australia in their 3-1 defeat of the Blue Samurai at the 2006 World Cup – would mean little if they could not lift the Cup on Saturday.

“They have a different coach, a different formation but still a very talented team all over the pitch but all the history and past results count for nothing, even the form of this tournament, it all goes out the window for a one-off game,” he said.

“We know there’s a great rivalry building between the two countries. You’re going to see two teams that are very talented, possibly the best two teams in the tournament, trying to become the champions.”

Japan manager Alberto Zaccheroni was in no doubt that Kagawa’s absence would affect his side’s preparations heading into the final, but he was certain his replacement would do the job – but will keep the incoming player secret until the team sheets are released.

“It’s very disappointing for the team and him as well. He contributed a lot to the team on the way to the final, he was getting better and better so it’s very disappointing. I know who’s going to replace him, I know him well, I trust him,” Zaccheroni said.

Neill, meanwhile, said a win for Australia would be just reward for the current crop of players, including veterans Tim Cahill, Harry Kewell and Mark Schwarzer.

“For this era of players, it’s an ideal opportunity to win something. It would be a very nice reward for a lot of hard work and sacrifice,” Neill said.

“Together, we have lifted football in Australia and it would be a nice reward for that work.”