2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™

11 June - 11 July

2010 FIFA World Cup™

Pantelic: World Cup is the pinnacle


One of football's more nomadic characters, Serbian striker Marko Pantelic has played for no less than 11 different clubs in eight different countries over a career spanning 14 years.

Nevertheless, the Ajax goalgetter appears to have finally found his feet since signing a one-year deal with the Dutch giants last summer: "I love it in Amsterdam. The people here are very friendly and the city is a great place to be. I really like living here," he told FIFA.comin an exclusive interview.

Indeed, the 31-year-old has every reason to feel content in his new environment. Ajax have been in sensational form this term and currently lie second in the Eredivisie, just four points behind league leaders Twente and one ahead of PSV Eindhoven.

Plenty to play for
"We're in the Dutch Cup semi-final and we want to go all the way and win it. We're also second in the league, so we're still on course for the title as well. Our main objective is to hold on to second place, though. We want to be playing Champions League football next season," said the Belgrade-born frontman.

Since arriving in Amsterdam in the summer, the former Hertha Berlin star has become one of the first names on coach Martin Jol's team sheet, racking up an impressive nine goals in 20 league appearances, not to mention a number of assists for fellow striker Luis Suarez.

Despite the impressive stats, Pantelic admitted that it was not plain sailing right from the off in the Dutch metropolis: "When I first arrived at Ajax it was hard, but after a few weeks I got into the swing of things and improved my fitness. It's important for me to do my bit for the team and I think I've managed to do that so far."

Praise for Suarez
Pantelic was however more than willing to heap the praise on his Uruguayan strike partner, who leads the Dutch scoring charts with 29 goals and looks set to take the world stage by storm at 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ in just under three months' time.

"Luis is a fantastic player. He causes opposition defences all manner of problems and aside from his goalscoring abilities, he's also very creative. He leads the line for us superbly and plays a very important role in the squad," said the Ajax No9 on his South American colleague.

Capped 29 times Serbia, Pantelic himself has big plans for the close season. Having qualified directly for South Africa 2010 ahead of favourites France in European Zone Group 7, the forward is now hoping he and his compatriots can translate their impressive form onto the biggest stage.

Wary of Germany
When quizzed on whether he harboured any doubts of making Serbia coach Radomir Antic's final cut, the eccentric striker brushed off the suggestion with confidence: "I don't see why I wouldn't be included. I'm playing regularly for Ajax and the coach knows who I am and what my strengths are."

After spending four years with Hertha Berlin, Pantelic is especially looking forward to Serbia's second group match against Germany in Port Elizabeth on 18 June: "I played in Germany for four years, so it's going to be a special game for me. I'm still good friends with a lot of the players," said Pantelic, who will also face Ghana and Australia in Group D either side of the Germany clash.

Leading figure
While remaining coy on his nation's targets for the international showdown, the Ajax star expressed his view that there are a number of potential candidates for the title: "There are a few favourites in my book. Preparation will be the key, as well as how the best teams start the tournament. The fitness of individual players is always important, and of course you need that extra little bit of luck to go all the way."

At 31 years of age and with a wealth of European and international experience, Pantelic is one of the leading figures in a Serbian squad desperate to make amends for a disappointing showing four years ago in Germany. Then competing as 'Serbia and Montenegro', the Balkan side crashed out at the group stage following three consecutive defeats.

Unforgettable experience
"Whether with Ajax or Serbia, I try to be there for my team-mates and help contribute to the team's success. I talk to the other players a lot and try to advise them where I can. It's very important to step out onto the pitch as a unit," said the striker.

"The World Cup is the pinnacle for any player. It's an experience you never forget," added Pantelic as the interview drew to a close. "I've heard a lot about it and now I want to be a part of it. I'm really looking forward to playing in South Africa. I know it's going to be winter there, but I'm still expecting a wonderful tournament full of great games and plenty of spectacular goals."

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