It is close to a decade ago that a young Ajdin Hrustic thought his football dream had come true.
The aspiring footballer from Dandenong had just earned his first national team call-up to join the Australian U-13 Boys squad.
But his dreams of pulling on the green and gold were quashed by unfortunate circumstances.
“It was U-13s when I got called up for an Australian national team,” Hrustic told socceroos.com.au.
“I missed out because of injury and that was the last time.”
However, Hrustic found redemption in 2017 when he was called up to face South American heavyweights Brazil – a side which included Philippe Coutinho, David Luiz and Thiago Silva - in front of a packed Melbourne Cricket Ground.
It was an extremely proud moment for the young midfielder, who came on as a second half substitute, and one which he has been desperate to replicate ever since.
“I went from the U-13s squad, not playing any national team games, and then straight to the first squad, which actually meant a lot to me,” said Hrustic.
“Some people see it as just being like another club but playing for the national team… I get goose bumps every time I go into camp.
“It means something to play for Australia and put on the green and gold - all of that energy inside of you just bursts out”.
It’s hard to question Hrustic’s passion for the Caltex Socceroos jersey.
The former South Melbourne youngster was born to a Bosnian father and Romanian mother, but continually turned down approaches to play for the Bosnia and Herzegovina national team in favour of Australia.
Missing out on selection for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup squad only intensified Hrustic’s desire to play for his country.
“I just missed out on the Asian Cup squad which was quite disappointing, but if you’re disappointed, I think it’s a positive thing because it means something.”
And now, the 23-year-old’s determination has finally paid off, having earned his first Caltex Socceroos call up in over a year.
But this time he hasn’t been called up for a friendly or a training camp – he’s part of the squad that will face Kuwait in a FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 qualifier next September.
Hrustic feels he’s ready for the challenge.
He’s become a versatile and creative midfielder for Eredivisie side FC Groningen, where he’s spent the past three seasons.
Hrustic’s impressive development was highlighted in Groningen’s first game of the new Eredivisie season, where he fired an 87th minute winner to secure a 1-0 victory over rivals FC Emmen.
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“It was a big game because Emmen is one of the closest teams to us, so it’s like a Melbourne City v Melbourne Victory or Melbourne Victory v Sydney FC kind of game,” said Hrustic.
“We lost three times (last season) including pre-season to them, so it meant a lot to the club and also for myself.”
When Hrustic’s chance to break the deadlock finally arrived, he drew on experience from a past game to make the right decision.
Hrustic recounted: “It was a few minutes before the end of the game.
“I had a similar situation against Hannover where I made a run deep and I controlled the ball on my chest and tried to smash it into the goal, and the keeper saved it.”
“I saw him coming out again, so I thought I’d do a different kind of way to finish it, so I lobbed him and it went in.
“I just smashed it into the goal once it went over the ‘keeper just to make sure and went straight to the fans.”
It was a big moment for Hrustic, but one he’s hopeful of repeating again and again this season given Groningen’s set up.
After initially starting off in a holding midfield role, the former Nottingham Forest, Austria Wien and Schalke youth player has been moved into a more attacking role in right midfield, which has allowed his “creativity to come out”.
Hrustic explained: “A new assistant trainer came in, a new head director, a new sports director, which changed the club a lot.
“We’ve changed the kind of football we’ve been playing compared to last season… I’m playing in a new position which suits me quite well at the moment.
Hrustic feels he’s in a better spot than ever to continually score goals and provide assists, and that puts him in good stead to make an impact for the Caltex Socceroos.
While at Groningen, Hrustic has been visited by Australia Assistant Coach Rene Meulensteen, who explained how he could fit into the national team’s set up.
“I spoke to Rene and he said they want guys scoring goals,” said Hrustic.
“Hopefully I can score goals and if I do get minutes, it would be amazing to get a bit more experience out on the pitch for the national team.”
Hrustic is determined to take his game to the next level and acknowledges the Eredivisie has been a launch pad for several young footballing stars.
“The Eredivisie is a good league because you see there is a lot of young and big players that come through,” said Hrustic.
“Frankie de Jong has made a move to Barcelona for 70 million pounds and there’s (Matthijs) de Ligt who’s gone to Juventus.
“But even from a sub-top team, you see players leave for 8-10 million to teams in Italy, to Anderlecht, to clubs in Spain, and even the Premier League.
“It’s a way to take a further step and I’m hoping to have a great season and see where my next step is.
“At the moment I’m trying to take it game by game.
“I want to be important to the team, I want to make goals and assists and at the end of the season if something does come up interesting then it’s always worth thinking about, but during my season I don’t think about other clubs.”
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