Goal-getter Durakovic relives Canada contest from isolation in Ipoh

Former Socceroo Mehmet Durakovic is like many people in the world right now – spending a fair portion of his time at home due to the global pandemic that is COVID-19.

And while Durakovic, who is currently the Head Coach of Perak in the Malaysia Super League (MSL), would undoubtedly prefer to be spending his nights pondering tactics for a forthcoming fixture, or pouring over video from his side’s last match, the five-time Malaysia Cup winner on Tuesday evening enjoyed a welcome distraction from isolation via the wonder of Wi-Fi.  

Along with thousands of Socceroos fans across the nation and around the globe, Durakovic tuned in to a replay of Australia’s epic FIFA World Cup 1994 qualifying play-off penalty shootout victory against Canada at the Sydney Football Stadium from August 1993.

The difference between Durakovic and the many others who took time out to relive the contest, though? Well, along with Frank Farina, Durakovic was the man to score one of Australia’s all-important goals in the encounter, thereby helping to keep Australia’s dream of competing at USA 1994 alive. 

“It’s unusual times at the moment,” Durakovic told Socceroos.com.au. “I am in Malaysia, in Ipoh, and here we have been locked down for the last couple of months now.” 

“It is basically stay home, stay safe, and we are not allowed to basically go out too much because of this coronavirus, which is a pity, but it is something that we have to do to keep everybody safe.” 

“It brings back all the memories, watching these games live on Facebook and YouTube. It (watching Australia v Canada) is bringing a smile to my face and tears to my eyes because it’s memories that you never forget. 

MINI MATCH: Socceroos v Canada

“It is fantastic to watch all these old games – it kind of helps you to pass the time a bit because it is not easy at this time,” he said.  

When Socceroos.com.au dialled Durakovic – unaware that he was actually watching the fixture – the replay was edging towards the 77th minute of the encounter and the magic moment when the former defender made a lung bursting run forward before skilfully nodding a looping Dave Mitchell touch beyond Canadian custodian Craig Forrest.

Still on the line when the goal went in, Durakovic paused for a moment, turned up the volume, took in Andy Paschalidis’ commentary – “(Aurelio) Vidmar… he has got (Farina) Farina on the right… he goes forward to Mitchell… it’s still on for… DURAKOVICCC! Mehmet Durakovic’s third goal in his Socceroo career and he will never ever score a more important goal than that. That goal was all Durakovic, he took the free kick quickly, the play went up the other end and Australia are well and truly in the game now John (Warren)” – before returning to the conversation noting that he had “goose bumps”.

“It was one-all and I was a bit lucky to get a free kick,” Durakovic recalled. “I played the free kick quickly and I kept running and running and running.”

“Aurelio Vidmar passed the ball to David Mitchell and the ball popped up in the air. I saw the goalkeeper off his line, so I just headed it over him and thankfully that gave us a lifeline to go into extra time, and then after that to penalties (where Australia sealed victory).

“It was a wonderful moment for Australia, and myself as well,” he said.

The game against Canada was one of 44 ‘A’ internationals that Durakovic would play for the Socceroos throughout an international career spanning 12 years. 

Durakovic looks back on his time spent in green and gold – which complemented successful, trophy-lifting spells at clubs including Brunswick Juventus, South Melbourne, and Selangor in Malaysia – with great fondness.

“Those are memories that you can’t buy,” Durakovic said of his decade-plus with the national team. “To represent Australia in one game, let alone so many games, and to be part of a wonderful era of Australian football with such great players, such Australian legends, for me it was an honour and something that you cherish for the rest of your life.” 

“You tell your kids and your kids tell your grandkids, and it flows from there.” 

When the COVID-19 pandemic ultimately eases, Durakovic will return to the Perak hot-seat in Malaysia’s top-flight.

When the 2020 season was halted, the MSL was four rounds in and Perak were second in the standings, unbeaten in matches against Terengganu (away), Selangor (away), Petaling Jaya City (home), and Sabah (away).

Mehmet Durakovic
Perak coach Mehmet Durakovic. Credit: New Straits Times

With Bos Gaurus, Durakovic will be aiming to seal more success for the passionate, football fervent people of Ipoh City, having already recorded one Malaysia Cup triumph and one Charity Shield victory in his two seasons with the club, in addition to strong league finishes and Cup achievements with his previous side, Selangor.

“I am really enjoying myself here (in Malaysia) as a coach,” he said. “It’s nice as a coach when you are doing well and winning a few trophies because as a coach you are only as good as your last game.”

“So you need to be successful, you need to win a few things as a coach in Asia to keep your job.

Throughout his Malaysian coaching journey, Durakovic has called upon some reliable Australian players to help his sides in pursuit of Malaysian football’s top prizes.

“All the Australian players that I have had have done a fantastic job for me," he said. "As a coach when I was at Selangor and as a coach where I am now in Perak I try to get a few Australian players here that I know or that friends recommend me because Aussie guys are really professional and give 100 per cent.

“Steve Pantelidis, Robbie Cornthwaite, Zac Anderson, Antony Golec, Yaren Sozer – all the Australian players that I have had in Malaysia have done a really, really good job for me to be honest.”

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