DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – Australia captain Lucas Neill has signed with United Arab Emirates champion Al Jazira with the hope of keeping himself fresh for Socceroos 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign.
The 33-year-old defender, who is making move from Turkish club Galatasaray where his contract had expired, was set to be unveiled in Abu Dhabi later Monday. Neill says on his website that he was joining the UAE club because of its standing in Asia and to help him prepare for World Cup qualifying which starts against Thailand in September.
''I'm really excited for the challenge and looking forward to setting up my new home in Abu Dhabi,'' he said. ''Al Jazira won the league comfortably last season, and now I get to help them defend the title and hopefully make an impression in the Asian Champions League. There are some great players in the league, including a number of quality strikers from Brazil and Argentina, so I'm looking forward to the challenges that come my way.''
Neill, who also played for Premier League clubs Blackburn, West Ham and Everton from 2001 to 2010, said the move to Al Jazira is part of three-year plan that will carry him through the 2014 tournament in Brazil.
''I needed to pick an offer that was good for my family, good for my body while also competitive so that I can give my best for the Socceroos in the coming years as captain,'' he said. ''I'll be doing everything I can to make sure we qualify for Brazil 2014.''
Neill's signing follows the announcement Sunday that the club had hired Belgian coach Franky Vercauteren on a one-year contract. The former Belgium coach made the move from Racing Genk where he led the club to the title last season.
The club turned to Vercauteren after its first choice Alejandro Sabella pulled out after being hired as the Argentina national coach. He replaced Sergio Batista following the team's dismal performance at the Copa America.
Though Vercauteren only has weeks to prepare the team for the new season, the Belgian said he was confident that he can improve on the team that Abel Braga led to its first league title last season. Braga resigned in the offseason to take over Brazilian side Fluminense.
''I will continue on building what Braga had left because I respect his work,'' Vercauteren said in a statement. ''My ambition is to achieve the best for Al Jazira and I hope I will be up to the expectations.''