Meet Ajdin Hrustic, Australia’s new free-kick ace
Ajdin Hrustic has quickly become a key figure in Australia’s Qatar 2022 campaign
Eintracht Frankfurt-based Hrustic has scored some stunning goals during qualifying
Midfielder discusses his passion for free-kicks, admiration for David Beckham and realising a childhood dream
If there has been a breakthrough star for Australia during their FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ qualifying campaign, it is surely Ajdin Hrustic. The attacking midfielder has impressed with his finely-tuned technical skills and eye for defence-splitting passes but, shining above all else, is a rapidly expanding dead-ball highlights’ reel. The 25-year-old has fired home a couple of jaw-dropping free-kicks as the Socceroos strive to reach a fifth successive World Cup. Hrustic stuck with impressive precision against Kuwait, but his centimetre-perfect goal against Japan in Tokyo seemed more like a computer simulation than real life.
Australia face a tough challenge to reach Qatar 2022. They are locked in a three-way battle for two automatic tickets alongside perennial qualifiers Japan and a freshly-enhanced Saudi Arabia under the tutelage of Herve Renard. In the most recent Aussie squad, the Eintracht Frankfurt-based Hrustic was the only outfield player currently featuring in one of Europe’s top-five leagues. Qualifying for Qatar 2022 would, Hrustic admits, be the realisation of a childhood dream. A goal heightened by a narrow failure to achieve World Cup selection three years ago under Bert van Marwijk. “It [missing selection] made me work even harder,” Hrustic told FIFA.com. “I was only young but I used it as a positive. I worked even harder to make sure I would be ready to play in a World Cup.”
It has been something of unusual international football journey so far for Hrustic. Born and raised in Melbourne, and with Bosnian and Romanian heritage, Hrustic made his Socceroos’ debut against a star-laden Brazil at the much-eulogised temple to sport in his home city – the 100,000 capacity Melbourne Cricket Ground. With trademark forethought, then-coach Ange Postecoglou selected Hrustic for the Green and Gold just weeks after making his senior club football debut. A trip to the ensuing 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup followed only for Hrustic to then temporarily go off the international radar. Now Qatar 2022 is his driving ambition. “We have played two [qualifying] games in the World Cup stadiums in Qatar and when I first stepped onto the pitch for the first match there [Khalifa International Stadium], I got goosebumps,” Hrustic said. “It is a kid's dream to play in a World Cup, it is something I have always wanted to achieve in my career, and I think it is probably the biggest goal I want to achieve. Hopefully dreams will become reality at the end [of the qualifiers].”
Hrustic name-checks Socceroos’ great Tim Cahill and England megastar David Beckham among his childhood heroes. “I vividly recall watching Tim Cahill’s famous volley goal [in 2014],” he said. “He was the first guy that came up to me when I first came into camp. He made me feel welcome straight away and said ‘welcome to the family, I want you to feel at home’, and that means a lot. “Hopefully I can do that kind of thing in a few years because I know that feeling Timmy gave me was great and made me feel so much more comfortable. It means a lot as a young kid. Watching him in a World Cup and then playing alongside him was the kind of thing you dream of. “I always wanted to be a dead-ball specialist. It's something I worked on since I was a kid. “I always looked up to David Beckham and followed his career. That free-kick he scored against Greece [that qualified England for the 2002 World Cup] is the kind of stuff I love seeing and it was a special moment. “When I was young I used to aim for the window in the shed in the backyard and I eventually smashed that up. When that got boring or I wanted to change positions I would aim for the kitchen window so I got into a few problems at home when I was a kid. My Mum would chase me around when they were smashed. My Dad supported me because he knew I loved football so much. It cost him a bit but it paid off in the end. “I have this feeling, every time I step up for a free-kick ... when I run up and if it feels good I know I am in with a chance to score. “Maybe there will be a chance where I can score a free-kick and help us qualify for a World Cup.” If a Hrustic strike can take Australia all the way to Qatar 2022, it really would be a case of a backyard childhood dream becoming reality.