Before we delve into the Turkish delight that is living just outside of Istanbul, the fact he once aspired to become a veterinarian or even the small matter of how Australia will fare in South Africa, there is a more pressing proposition we have to put to Lucas Neill.Are there times, perhaps late at night, when the Socceroos skipper ponders what might have been? Does he dare to dream about how it could have unfolded had Italian defender Fabio Grosso not fallen to the turf like a man shot following your challenge? If the referee had punished rather than rewarded the most famous dive this side of Matthew Mitcham? Do you still fantasise about how far the Socceroos could have gone in the last World Cup had you not been dudded by the Azzurri?”Definitely,” Neill told The Sun-Herald. ”We were 10 seconds away from taking the world champions to extra time, with an amount of damage [to them]. People will say, ‘it was a penalty’ or ‘it wasn’t a penalty’ and if they hadn’t given it or if we’d gone to extra time we could have won or lost.”But if we had won, the momentum alone and the confidence we gained, I’m 100 per cent confident we would have beaten Ukraine. And then we would have been in the World Cup semi-finals. Italy went on to win the whole thing and got better as the tournament went on.”The disappointing thing for us is the goal that knocked us out happened so late in the game that we didn’t even get to kick off, to react to that goal. We didn’t even get 20 seconds, 30 seconds, one minute, to try to get the ball up the other end and create one more chance to try to equalise.”Our tournament was going so well, we’d gained so much momentum and everyone was buzzing. We felt we had two or three games left in us. And then all of a sudden … gone. Like that.”You know the moment. There’s practically no time on the clock. Grosso dribbles left and leaves Mark Bresciano in his wake. The penultimate obstacle between the defender and the net is Neill. It’s one-on-one.No one had got past Neill all tournament. Grosso tries the same move, which worked on Bresciano. Neill anticipates, slides his body where he thinks the ball will go … a microsecond later, a whistle sounds. One nation’s joy, another’s despair.”It’s one of those things. It could have been me, it could have been anyone,” Neill said. ”I don’t see myself as the guy who knocked Australia out of the World Cup. I do wish that we had a chance to correct the incident, correct the decision. Getting one or two minutes to do something about it. It drives me on to want to see if we can better ourselves, take on the rest of the world again in the biggest tournament in the world. It hurt. It hurt massively. It’s going to sound clichéd, like I don’t care, but that’s football. It happens. [It’s] the way you react to that, and I’ve certainly reacted in a positive way, to now be the captain of the country and ensure that we get an opportunity to be involved in [a big moment] like that again.”We’re happy to be involved where it can go either way again. Get a chance to do it. That’s what is frustrating. Everyone has taken that feeling and has waited four years for it to come around again so we can get back into World Cup action.”In 56 days, Neill will get his wish. The Socceroos will begin their campaign on June 13 against Germany in Durban. For Neill, it’s a very different preparation to last time.He’s a world away from England’s north, having signed to play alongside Harry Kewell at Turkish side Galatasaray.”We’ve got the swimming pool in the backyard and it’s probably only about a week away from being warm enough to spend all of our afternoons in the backyard pool,” Neill said. ”That’s something I haven’t been able to say for 15 years.”Language aside, there are other differences. The pace of the football remains the same, but it’s a different story off the pitch. ”The people here are very hard working but they want to do it at their own pace and their own time,” Neill said. ”If you want something done at 10 o’clock they seem to arrive at 11. I find that quite frustrating but it’s just the way it goes over here. Istanbul is famous for traffic and the ability to create a traffic jam from nothing. It’s probably the only negative about the place.”Minor gripes aside – ”there’s no golf here” – Neill can’t speak highly enough about the club or the country. The food, the nightlife, the people are all ”amazing”. There’s a particularly tight bond between the foreign players, who regularly socialise after training. Brazilian superstar Elano Blumer hosted the last get-together and this time it’s Neill’s turn.”We like to go out and eat or go to people’s houses as families and have barbecues and try different styles of food,” Neill said. ”I’m on the barbecue this weekend for an Australian barbecue. Last week it was a Brazilian barbecue.”But with the World Cup just around the corner, there are bigger fish to fry. The Socceroos, Neill concedes, can no longer enter the tournament as the ”surprise package” after their achievements in Germany. Bundled with Serbia, Germany and Ghana, group D may not quite be the Group of Death but the Socceroos will again have to play above themselves to progress.”In the world of football we’re considered the fourth best team in that group, but ask any Australian in the team if they feel like they’re the fourth best team in that group and they’ll give you a different answer,” Neill said.”The reality is the other three teams are capable of beating us. We need to make sure that we’re ready for everything they throw at us and we can come away with a few upsets, especially in the first game.”We’re victims of our own success a little bit because if we don’t get out of the group it will be considered a disappointing campaign.”But from the perspective that we qualified for a second World Cup in quite comfortable style, we made it look easier than it was.”We were criticised a bit about our style and how we went about it but we got there and that was the objective. We all want to get out of the group because that would signify another achievement and give us bigger hurdles to jump. It’s about building on the momentum you gain if you get out of the group, getting a bit of luck, being in the right position and maybe going on and maybe surprising ourselves and the nation.”According to FIFA, the Socceroos are ranked No.19. The World Cup provides an opportunity to rise in the pecking order, but waiting to crack the top 10 is like waiting for Turkish traffic to subside.”As far as attitude, spirit, determination and desire goes, we’re definitely in the top 10 in the world,” Neill said. ”As far as having depth and quality in our squad, we’re just not quite there yet. Not every one of our players is playing top-level football consistently in big European teams or leagues.”We’re getting there, we’re on our way. We’re knocking on the door. For whatever reason, we’re not quite there yet and it’s just a matter of time. While we’re not there we’ll maximise everything we have and use that Aussie spirit to try to overturn technique and skill, to overpower a few teams enough to upset supposed better teams than us.”That’s something Australia should never forget that we’ve got. That’s what makes us different. We can bring out technical players and they can be amazing. We can bring out skilful players, players who can win games on their own.”But the thing that makes Australia unique is spirit. It’s not just about working hard, it’s the teamwork. No one cares about who gets the glory in this team. Nobody cares who gets the headlines. It’s all about the Socceroos getting the headlines, about the Socceroos winning games for Australia. You can’t coach that.”We’re very lucky to get that because a lot of teams have to work hard to get a blend of our team spirit but that comes naturally to us.”It doesn’t matter who you come up against. Individuals don’t matter. It’s Australia versus the world. That’s all that counts. That’s something we should never take for granted.”Nor does Neill take his lot in life for granted. He has played 15 years of professional football in Europe, including stints at Blackburn Rovers, West Ham and Everton, and gone on to captain his country. Money and fame have followed.Not bad for a kid who grew up on the northern beaches of Sydney. But, in Neill’s words, ”it could have been completely different”.”Growing up, I wanted to be a vet because I loved animals. I was never going to get there with my test results. [If not a footballer], I thought I’d be a landscape gardener because I’d be outside all of the time in the garden. I could start work early and knock off early and go surfing. Probably something like that. Something outdoors, I couldn’t be stuck behind a desk all day.”In his own words: Lucas Neill on …BEING LUCAS NEILL ”I’m taking it all in my stride. I know I’m living the dream and I’ll never take that for granted. I’ve earned this ride, I’ve worked very hard and sacrificed a lot. I’m very proud of what I’ve achieved and there’s still loads I want to do with my life, in and out of football. Football has opened up so many great doors for me, I’ve met so many good people, I’ve seen the world, whether it’s been training grounds, airports or stadiums, I’ve managed to take in so many cultures. I’m just very proud of where I am. I know I’ve got a talent and I’ve never been one to rub it in anyone’s face.”ON GIVING BACK ONE DAY ”I’m going to take a little bit of everything and pass on what I’ve experienced. Whether I pass that on to kids when I eventually coach them or other players if I step into a higher coaching or manager’s role – I’ve not decided on my future but it would be a shame to waste all the years I’ve been able to work with [great managers] and not put that back into practice. Why would I want to come home and not pass on everything I’ve learned to the hopefuls of the future? If I can come back and set these guys on the right path by teaching them the foundations of football and the education of working hard, setting goals and trying to achieve those goals through sacrifice and hard work, I’ll be putting Australia in a better place.”ARRIVING AT GALATASARAY ”I’ve never experienced anything like that and I’m glad I have. It’s humbling but, at the same time, great for your ego. I hadn’t even signed the contract yet. To have that many cameras, photographers and interest over a player wanting to sign for that club, it makes you feel special and shows how serious they are about their football. Rumour has it there are 27 million Galatasaray fans in Istanbul. If they’re not Galatasaray fans they’re Fenerbahce or Besiktas [supporters]. They either love you or hate you and I’m not saying you are ever in any danger, but they love their football that much that you’re forever shaking hands or asking to pose for photos. They are so passionate fans of football, it’s crazy.”THE A-LEAGUE ”I’m a big supporter of it, we need it. It’s worrying that there’s a few clubs trying to keep their head above water. It’s frustrating because you know how good football is and how good the league can be; how important the league is for the future of football in Australia and the future of the national team. That’s why I want to get involved, because I know I can be part of a club that can take players from a very young age all the way through to the top level.”  PLAYING THE 2014 WORLD CUP ”Who knows? I’ll play for as long as my legs and body will take me. I’ll only play as long as I can keep up and maintain the level. Let’s see how far it gets us. I’m feeling good and I’m certainly confident that I will reach that level at this World Cup.”
Nanjing Night Net