Despite being a veteran of Australia’s historic appearance at the 2006 FIFA World Cup™, the timing of the Australian A-League season means Mile Sterjovski is no certainty for South Africa 2010 selection. After nine-years playing in Europe for the likes of Lille, Basel and Derby County, Sterjovski returned home to the warmer climes of Perth last year. However, the early finish to Australia's domestic season, which concludes in March, is proving problematic for Sterjovski and fellow home-based Socceroo aspirants.
Several A-League players moved abroad last month in an attempt to maintain their fitness and prove their worth to Australia coach Pim Verbeek. Most notable were the moves of evergreen defender Craig Moore to Greek club Kavala, and left-sided player Dean Heffernan, who joined Huddersfield, having recently put his name into contention with some solid performances with the green and gold. Others such as Jason Culina, and Sterjovski’s Perth Glory’s team-mates, Chris Coyne and Jacob Burns, elected to continue pushing their claims on the domestic front.
Despite missing recent weeks with a back injury, Sterjovski - who was Perth’s major off-season signing - has played a key role in helping the club to their first finals series in six years. Playing mostly on the left side of midfield, the 30-year-old has proved his worth by weighing in with seven goals from 20 starts under the guidance of his coach, the former Feyenoord and Rangers striker David Mitchell.
“After the A-League season I will see what options are available to me,” stated Sterjovski to FIFA.com of his post-season plans. “If I can’t get a club where I can play regular football, I will be looking at contacting some of my old clubs and coaches to hopefully train for eight weeks at the top level to get myself as fit as possible and give myself every chance of making the final squad.”
Former Australia coach Guus Hiddink prized Sterjovski’s hard-running and pace as well as the versatility that has seen him play in wide midfield roles and as a striker for the national team. “I have the experience and I know what it is all about,” says the 30-year-old of his potential worth for Australia this coming June. “For me it is all about getting as fit as possible. I’m confident I can get to that level and I know what is required to get to that level.”
Living the dream
Four years ago, Sterjovski made three starting appearances as the Socceroos reached the Round of 16 for the first time, in what was the nation’s second FIFA World Cup appearance. “Playing against Brazil was an honour and something I had always dreamed of doing,” recalls a player capped 42 times during a nine-year international career. “When I was at Sydney United as a teenager, I would be doing extra training sessions with Jason Culina and we would pretend we were playing against Brazil in a World Cup. There we were in the tunnel lining up (in Munich) and Jason tapped me on the shoulder and said ‘remember what we used to say’. The dream came true, so that was quite special.”
Every draw for a World Cup is difficult, but I think we perform better when we are underdogs, and it looks like we are underdogs in this group.
But it was the epic encounter with Croatia that lives most vividly in the memory of the Wollongong-born Sterjovski: “If I had to choose one memory, it would probably be the match against Croatia and the celebrations afterwards on the pitch that really stands out in my mind.”
Four years on the Socceroos find themselves facing a significant challenge if they are to repeat the heroics of four years ago, having been pitted against traditional heavyweights Germany, Serbia and Ghana. The latter opponent will invoke bittersweet memories with Sterjovski, who scored the winner before being red-carded against Ghana in Sydney two years ago on the last occasions the two nations met.
“Every draw for a World Cup is difficult, but I think we perform better when we are underdogs, and it looks like we are underdogs in this group,” he conceded. “That way we tend to perform better and try to prove people wrong. We respect the other teams in the group and I know it will be difficult but we have to be confident in ourselves.”