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Mark Viduka breaks silence over Socceroos' Asian Cup debacle, international retirement

Thirteen years on, the former Socceroos skipper shares the reality of dissent and bitterness that plagued Australia's disastrous Asian Cup debut.
Now living in Croatia, the former talismanic striker claims football's leadership in Australia has overseen a grave decline in talent development.
Mark Viduka believes Bernie Mandic played a detrimental role in his relationship with former Leeds and Socceroos teammate Harry Kewell.
The former Elland Road-favourite looks back fondly on the talented Leeds side of the early 2000s, and their rapid fall from European heights.
Former Leeds front-man Mark Viduka recalls backstage drinks with Elton John, and how close he came to joining the Red Devils.
Former Socceroos captain Mark Viduka opens up about leading the Australian football family back to the World Cup after a playoff victory over Uruguay.

Mark Viduka has broken a 13-year silence on Australia's dismal showing at the 2007 Asian Cup, pointing the finger at teammate Lucas Neill for the Socceroos' disappointing quarterfinal exit.

Fresh off the nation's best-ever finish at World Cup, where the Socceroos were only just edged by eventual champions Italy in the round of 16, Australia were expected to do well in their first Asian Cup bow.

- EXCLUSIVE: Read Mark Viduka's full interview with ESPN
- WATCH: Mark Viduka Uncovered on YouTube

Instead the Socceroos' "golden generation" were bundled out in the first knockout match after only just making it out of a group containing Iraq, Thailand and Oman.

Viduka, who was captain at the time, says the blame lay with ambitious defender Neill and caretaker coach Graham Arnold.

"I think Lucas tried to undermine me," Viduka told ESPN. "His priority was to be captain.

"I think Lucas Neill came to that Asian Cup at that stage not in a good state of mind because of the fact that Graham Arnold had offered him the captaincy because he wasn't sure I was coming the the Asian Cup or not.

"Once I came to the Asian Cup, [Arnold] wasn't brave enough to tell me that I wasn't captain anymore.

"I felt Lucas Neill was sulking the whole Asian Cup in preparations for it and through the Asian Cup.

"More because of his other activities off the pitch rather than on the pitch stuff.

"It affected other players."

ESPN has attempted to reach Neill for a response.

Mark Viduka and Lucas Neill
Mark Viduka has broken a 13-year silence on Australia's poor showing at the 2007 Asian Cup, blaming Lucas Neill for the Socceroos' early exit.

The experience saw Viduka make the decision to quit international football altogether.

Arnold's successor, Pim Verbeek, reached out to the former Leeds, Middlesbrough and Celtic star in the lead up to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa but Viduka refused to be drawn on whether he'd continue in green and gold.

In the end Viduka didn't return to the national fold, and says there was no regrets on his side for making the decision.

"[The 2007 Asian Cup] was the main reason I stopped playing for the national team," Viduka said.

"Do I regret stopping? No. Because my problem was that my generation of players that I grew up with were a different breed to the new generation and to be the honest I wasn't a big fan of the new generation of players.

"A lot of them were more interested in how many deals they were doing on the side though sponsorship and getting their heads on the television than actually playing for the national team."

Arnold, who has since returned to the helm of the Australian national team after successful coaching stints in the A-League with Central Coast and Sydney FC, famously claimed some players didn't want to be at the tournament in the aftermath of a 3-1 group stage loss to eventual champions Iraq. Viduka, however, said there remained no hard feelings towards the current Socceroos boss and credits him for being a pioneer for Australian players forging careers in Europe.

"Hopefully he's learnt a lot from the days of when he coached the national team at the Asian Cup, especially man management," Viduka said. "I think he has.

"Aussies have the most difficult path to make it in Europe. You got to think, back then we were in the arse end of the world when it came to football. There was a stigma attached to us.

"That's why someone like Craig Johnson needs to be admired -- I used to barrack for him -- even though I wasn't a Liverpool fan.

"[And pioneers] later on like Graham Arnold, Frank Farina, Eddie Krncevic and David Mitchell."

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