Perhaps few European fans - other than those from Montenegro - had paid much attention to Dejan Damjanovic when the continent's qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ commenced two years ago. For many, the name was totally unfamiliar. After the qualifying dust settled down, though, the Montenegrin was indeed among those revelations raising quite a few eyebrows.
The past campaign marked only the second qualifying experiences for the south-eastern European country but they proved a genuine force to be reckoned with, courtesy of some brilliant performances by Damjanovic and his team-mates. The towering forward, plying his trade then with FC Seoul, finished as Europe’s joint second top-scorer in the group with four goals alongside the likes of Frank Lampard, Danny Welbeck and Andriy Yarmolenko.
"I am more than satisfied with my performances during the qualification," the 32-year-old told FIFA.com, "I was happy to have a chance of playing in this campaign. I played in nearly every important game and scored several goals. I am really proud of what I have done for my national team."
Damjanovic opened his account in his second match against hosts Ukraine, firing home the only goal as Montenegro came away with a surprise win in Kiev. His second came in the home game against England, when he cancelled out Wayne Rooney's early opener with a late strike to secure a precious point for the hosts. It was a result which moved his unfancied side to the summit with a two-point cushion just past the halfway mark.
"Honestly I couldn't find words to express my feelings", Damjanovic said of his equaliser against England. "My country is so small but we defeated a big team like Ukraine and drew against a side like England. It was unbelievable. I will never forget those experiences."
With the experiences gained from the World Cup qualifying, we can improve our performances and qualify.
Their promising campaign, however, ended in disappointing fashion as they suffered three losses and a draw to finish third. While there were lessons which should be learned, Damjanovic was at pains to point out that it was their lack of resources which led to the failure.
"Our players are talented," he explained. "But after all we are such a small country so our resources are limited. When we played against England (in the second leg), we had six players ruled out due to injuries with two others unavailable for different reasons. We could have been able to qualify had we been give more time to prepare a full-strength, complete side."
Move to China
While excelling for country, his club form was equally eye-catching. Once again he reaped the K-League Golden Boot award in the past season as his 19 goals helped FC Seoul finish among the top four, thus securing a place in this year's AFC Champions League. On the Asian scene, he scored seven times helping to propel FC Seoul to the Champions League final, only to lose out to Guangzhou Evergrande on goal difference over two legs. Not surprisingly, his superb goal-scoring form saw him as one of three nominees for 2013’s AFC Foreign Player of the Year award.
Damjanovic attributed his prolific form to his growing confidence. He said: "When you are in good form, everything is going smoothly. I played with FC Seoul for many years and the team-mates supported me very much. So I had enough confidence. I knew I could score on each chance I was given. We had a smooth campaign during the group phase (in the Champions League) but in the knockout stage things were more difficult for us. I tried my best and scored in each game I played. Even in the final we posed a big threat against Guangzhou."
Having won nearly everything with the capital giants during his seven-year spell in Korea Republic, Damjanovic headed to China and joined Jiangsu Sainty, a Chinese Super League side against which he twice played in the last Champions League. "Frankly, after so many years in the K-League, I felt it was time to embark on a new challenge. I think Jiangsu Sainty was a good choice. It is a club of great potential," he added.
Despite playing in his debut season, he has set himself the task of becoming the top-marksman in China. "Jiangsu is a club of qualities," he said, "I hope my new team-mates can support me and I will do my best and help the club with my talents and experiences. I will strive to prove I can still play good matches and score good goals. I hope I can score 15 goals or more in my first season and lead the goal-scoring chart."
Despite missing out on Brazil 2014, Damjanovic still harbours dreams with the national team. With qualifying for the 2016 UEFA EURO kicking off this September, Damjanovic and Co are offered a new chance to prove themselves on the international scene.
"The next UEFA EURO in France is a big chance for us," he concluded, "The competition is expanded to 24 teams and it means we have greater prospects. With the experiences gained from the World Cup qualifying, we can improve our performances and qualify. For me, I hope I can maintain my form and score more goals for my country."