SOCCEROOS skipper Lucas Neill has been named as the face of the 2015 AFC Asian Cup in Australia.
Neill, 35, will cap off a stellar international career with the title of Captain Ambassador for the highly-anticipated tournament.
Today’s announcement by the Local Organising Committee Chairman Frank Lowy marks the 500-day countdown to the biggest football tournament ever held in the nation.
“I have long dreamed of a football event this big coming to Australian shores,” Neill told the FFA’s official website.
“I am passionate about growing the game in Australia and the Asian Cup is a great opportunity for fans to see world-class football right in their backyard.
“To actually be part of it in the capacity of Captain Ambassador makes it doubly special for me.
Fresh from signing with Omiya Ardija in the J.League, Neill said: “I feel very proud and deeply honoured. It’s like wearing the captain’s armband, but never having to take it off."
Neill has played in Australia’s previous two Asian Cup campaigns and led the Socceroos in their last attempt where they fell to Japan 1-0 in extra time at the 2011 final.
Lowy described the veteran defender as one of the most recognisable faces in Australian football.
“It is fitting that Lucas should be the face of the Asian Cup as it comes to Australia for the first time,” the elder statesman of Aussie football said.
“I am pleased that Lucas has accepted this honour and I know as ambassador he will do his utmost to promote the AFC Asian Cup both in Australia and throughout Asia.”
LOC CEO Michael Brown said the tournament was the biggest sporting event in Asia, and represented a key opportunity for Australian governments, business, tourism and sporting interests to engage with the region early in the Asian century.
“It is exciting today to unveil the countdown clock to mark 500 Days to go until the Asian Cup kicks off in Melbourne on 9 January, 2015,” Mr Brown said.
“Today we are also releasing a promotional reel to boost excitement in the Asian Cup, highlighting our beautiful host cities.
“With Lucas Neill as our Captain Ambassador we are confident that we can spread the word about the Asian Cup to both traditional football fans and the wider community.”
Neill has been a fixture in the green and gold for the past decade and has amassed 92 caps since making his national team debut at 18 in 1996.
He commanded international attention with his sterling defensive performances at the 2006 World Cup in Germany and led his country with distinction at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
Neill has again been a stalwart of the Brazil 2014 campaign, and scored his first international goal with a header in the qualifier against Jordan in Melbourne in June.
“There could be few more fitting swansongs to Lucas’ stellar career than to hold the Asian Cup aloft before his family and home town fans at Sydney’s Olympic Stadium on 31 January, 2015,” Mr Brown said.
“I know the Socceroos hope to follow up their third consecutive World Cup finals appearance in Brazil next year by winning the Asian Cup at their third attempt.”
The tournament, which kicks off less than six months after the World Cup final in Brazil, is the pinnacle for the 47 nations of the Asian Football Confederation.
Australia, Japan, Korean Republic and DPR Korea have already qualified for Australia 2015. Qualifying for the remaining 12 positions is underway.
AFC Asian Cup Australia 2015 will take place from January 9-31 in five host cities – Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra and Newcastle.