Viduka commits to Asian Cup
Australian striker Mark Viduka has committed himself to playing in next month's AFC Asian Cup after being on the verge of retiring from international football, national coach Graham Arnold said on Friday.
Viduka, a leading candidate to be named captain of the Socceroos for the Asian football showpiece, came within hours of quitting international football but agreed to play in his last big tournament, reports said.
Australian football officials had scheduled a conference Friday with speculation that Viduka was about to withdraw from the Australian squad for the 7-29 July tournament in Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia.
But it was hurriedly cancelled late Thursday.
The 31-year-old striker signed a two-year contract with Newcastle United in the English Premier League this month and has been wrestling with the decision to quit international football since last year's FIFA World Cup.
The Daily Telegraph said Viduka had told friends he intended to withdraw from the Australian squad, feeling unable to offer the 100 per cent commitment required.
Arnold spoke at length with Viduka to get him to change his mind.
"He's made the decision - the first decision was to retire. But after time thinking about it, he's made his availability clear," Arnold told reporters.
"He's totally committed to the shirt, he's totally committed to the cause. We had three strikers put on stand-by, but now Mark has made the commitment and that's fantastic."
Arnold said the change of clubs, along with the decision of close friend Josip Skoko to rule himself out of the Asian Cup last week, may have been among the catalysts for him to consider his international future.
The national coach said Viduka had not made clear his plans beyond the Asian Cup, but hoped the striker would continue on with the Socceroos towards the qualifiers for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa.
"It looked like his allegiance to his new club would win over him playing for his country again," a Newcastle official told The Australian newspaper.
"I think that Mark will play out the tournament with the Socceroos, then announce his retirement from the international arena to concentrate on his new role with the Magpies."
Arnold said this month he was confident Viduka would play the Asian Cup but conceded: "Mark is very tired from a long season and needs a good break."
Viduka is a key part of Arnold's tactics for the Asian Cup with his technical ability to hold the ball and play as a lone striker supported by a fast-moving midfield as previous coach Guus Hiddink employed at the World Cup.
Viduka is believed to be vying with West Ham United defender Lucas Neill for the Australian captaincy, having led the Socceroos at the World Cup.
Arnold is expected to announce the captain when the team assembles in Singapore on 21 June ahead of their final warm-up game there on June 30.
Australia open their first-ever Asian Cup campaign against Oman in Bangkok on 8 July.
Viduka has scored only six goals in 38 international appearances for Australia since his debut against South Africa in 1994.