Mile Sterjovski - My Socceroos debut

Mile Sterjovski talks about his debut for the Socceroos



Date: 15 November, 2000 Venue: Hampden Park, Glasgow Score: Scotland 0-2 Australia Scorers: Emerton 12', Zdrilic 66' Crowd: 30,985

Australian Line-up: Mark Schwarzer (gk), Tony Popovic, Shaun Murphy, Kevin Muscat, Stan Lazaridis, Brett Emerton, Josip Skoko (Kasey Wehrman 75), Paul Okon (captain), Daniel Tiatto (Jacob Burns 67), Paul Agostino (Mile Sterjovski 46), David Zdrillic (Clayton Zane 89)

"DO you really want to go?"

Those were the words of Lille-s coach back in 2000, upon learning that Mile Sterjovski had been called up to the Socceroos.

Sterjovski's response: "Are you crazy? It-s my first international call up, of course I want to play.--

The comment from then Lille coach Vahid Halilhodzic highlights the regard, or lack thereof, the Australian national team was held in European circles pre the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany.

There was another factor at play, as Sterjovski points out.

"We were also promoted from the second division and I was playing regularly at the time, but this was a big opportunity for me to break into the national team and I couldn-t pass it up,-- recalls Sterjovski.

Only months earlier, Sterjovski had been left out of the Olyroos squad for the Sydney Olympics by Olympics coach, Raul Blanco. But Socceroos coach, Frank Farina, rewarded him for breaking into France-s top division.

Just a year out from the decisive World Cup qualifiers against a South American opponent, Sterjovski had finally got the chance he-d been waiting for.

And what a stage it was. Scotland at Glasgow-s Hampden Park.

"I remember it was a big thing for me,-- says Sterjovski.

"It was always a dream of mine and to be called up I felt very proud and it was good to meet all the players you look up to.

"I specifically remember players like Josip Skoko and Stan Lazaridis made me feel welcome and a part of the team.

"I was 21, I was at Lille and it was a great experience for me.--

Sterjovski, who now has 35 Socceroos caps to his name, was a half time substitute for Paul Agostino.

And it was his trademark versatility that contributed to the nerves setting in.

Having made his name as a striker with Sydney United then Parramatta Power in the NSL, his French club had converted him into a midfielder.

"At Lille I was playing as a midfielder and when I came on, it was the first time in a while I was playing as a striker,-- he says.

"So with the nerves, I don-t think I played that well but Frank came up to me after the game and said I did well.

"In terms of my game, the only real memory was laying a ball off for 'Skokes' (Skoko) to have a shot.

"But I got to play in a win.--

And a convincing one at that. Brett Emerton and David Zdrilic scored either side of the break to condemn the Scots to defeat on their home turf, which the home fans found hard to swallow.

A friendly it was, but the team boasted hardened English and Scottish Premier League campaigners David Weir, Colin Hendry, Craig Burley, Barry Ferguson, Dominic Matteo and Don Hutchinson.

The experience was much sweeter for Sterjovski.

"The thing that surprised me was just how relaxed and laid back it was and how well everyone got on,-- Sterjovski says.

"In the youth teams and the Olympic team, the coaches were big on discipline. But in the seniors it was up to yourself to be professional.

"I loved it. There was a really good team morale and it-s always been the same.--