Monday, 17 December 2012

Duric looks to go out in style

Singapore – Having already made his mark in the record books at the AFF Suzuki Cup, Aleksandar Duric will be looking to bring down the curtain on his untypical international football career when he takes to the field for Singapore in this week’s final against Thailand. 

The lanky striker only made his international debut for the Lions five years ago at 37, an age when most players would already have quit playing at that level.

But such is the skill and dedication of the man who once competed at the Olympics for his native Bosnia as a kayaker that he has flourished on the international stage and averaged nearly a goal every other game for the Lions since he netted a brace on his debut against Tajikistan in a World Cup qualifier in 2007.

Now 42, Duric has made no secret of his intention to retire from international football after this year’s AFF Suzuki Cup but he hopes that he can go out with a bang by helping to fire the Lions to a fourth regional title.

“Reaching this year’s final is kind of like a dream come true,” said Duric to

“I’ve played in this tournament twice before in 2008 and 2010 so this is my third time and I’m so excited to be playing in the final of the AFF Suzuki Cup because this is my last chance. I’m going to retire after this tournament and I badly wanted to be in the final and we are.

“At the same time, we have proved many people wrong by going through to the final. Not many people believed we go could even get through the group stage, but game by game we have grown as a team and showed that we are really good.”

Since his appearance in the 1992 Olympic kayak event, Duric has dedicated himself to football and played for club in Hungary, Australia and China before he arrived in Singapore in 1999.

A prolific scorer in the S.League for several clubs, he was just an interested observer when the Lions won the Asean title in 2007 but became a Singapore citizen on his own accord later that year and has gone on to score 24 goal in 51 international matches for his adopted country.

“I honestly never thought that I would be playing in the final for the national team,” he said. “I have to grateful because at my age, winning over 50 caps for the national team is a great achievement.”

Given his vast footballing experience, Duric insists that he was not about to panic when the Lions endured a poor build-up to this year’s AFF Suzuki Cup which came in the wake of their disappointing group stage exit two years ago.

“I’ve been playing football for nearly 20 years and being in the game for such a long time, I know that friendly games don’t really mean anything. It was the effort that the team was putting in and not the results of the games that mattered,” he said.

“We knew that we were putting in effort and playing good football but the results just didn’t come our way. But we know that we are a good team and that we were gelling well as we had been together for some time.

“Maybe the public in Singapore and everyone else were sceptical but the players and the coaching staff believed that we were on the right track for the tournament. It was important to get our form at the right moment and we did that right at the start with our 3-0 win against Malaysia.”

It has hardly been plain sailing so far for the Lions in the competition with central midfielder Hariss Harun out injured and Shi Jiayi missing due to a family emergency but coach Radojko Avramovic has, so far, found solutions within the squad that he has kept faith with throughout much of this year.

“The coach believes in the players that he had and he trusted the players that he called into the national team,” said Duric. “We didn’t have a big squad and we’re thinner than ever now with the injuries to our key players and Shi Jiayi’s family matters but the players who were called up or who have come in as replacements have done a great job.

“It just shows that this group of players are real professionals and are doing a real great job for the team and for the country.”

Duric himself did not start in the opening game against Malaysia although he became the competition’s oldest scorer when he found the net after coming off the bench. However, the veteran has filled in capably since he was given a role in the first 11 for the final group game against Laos.

“I had a chat with coach Raddy and I knew that I would not be starting in the tournament but he always believed that I could always come off the bench and help the team because of my experience and my height as a target man,” Duric explained.

“Because of the way that the tournament progressed, I got a chance to play to more often and every game now I think for the team.

“For myself I think that it important to get as many opposition defenders to focus on me more than the other players so that there is more space for players like Khairul Amri and Shahril Ishak to expose the defence of the other team. So far it has worked so let’s see what happens when we play Thailand.”

While Duric feels that the Thais are favourites in the clash between the two only two teams to have won the competition on three occasions, he feels that the Lions could set down a marker in the first leg at a sold-out Jalan Besar Stadium on Wednesday.

“Definitely Thailand are the favourites,” he says. “They have not lost any games and not only are they scoring goals but they are also full of good players. But so do we and I think that we still have a chance.

“I think that the most important thing for us is that we get a good result in the first leg in Singapore. We must try to score goals and not to concede any because any slight advantage for us will be good when we can go to Bangkok.

“We are playing at our home ground and you have to use these advantages. We need to start well in that game and pressurise the Thai team to make mistakes. It will not be easy because their team have great possession of the ball and they have good players like Teerasil and Datsakorn who can punish you for any small mistake.

“Like us, they have a good mixture of old and young players and I think that it will be a great final with the two best teams playing for the most prestigious trophy in South-East Asian football.

“For me, playing my last game at Jalan Besar for the national team will be a special moment for me. I have two games left and I will be enjoying every moment especially knowing that it is the final.”

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