Spiranovic - rising to the top

Matt Spiranovic is only 18, but on Saturday his sudden rise could get even better, if plays for the Socceroos.

He-s only 18, already got a German Cup winners medal to his name and could be about to live out a dream by playing for his country at the top level. Matt Spiranovic is a rising star and thankfully he has so far resisted overtures from the country of parents heritage Croatia, so he can fulfill his dream of playing for the Socceroos.

The Geelong-born defender, arrived in Sydney yesterday, just days after enjoying the biggest day of his fledgling career, FC Nurnberg-s German Cup final win over recently crowned Bundesliga Champions VfB Stuttgart.

Keen to impress Socceroos coach Graham Arnold, Spiranovic didn-t take the option to do light work; he jumped straight in and was part of demanding session, as the intensity levels at training noticeably increase ahead of Saturday-s match against Uruguay at Telstra Stadium.

The first thing you notice about Spiranovic is his size. He is tall and for a lad of 18 is not a skinny kid, but fairly strongly built. During the training session, he was not intimidated by the bigger names around him and looked right at home. And all this after just stepping off the plane after a long flight from Germany.

After training, he could have quite rightly wanted to head straight back to the team hotel to get a deserved rest, but stayed behind to face the media pack, whom only wanted to know one thing - does his appearance here in Sydney mean his allegiance is to Australia.

The answer was an emphatic yes.

Even if Spiranovic does get match time on Saturday, FIFA has already confirmed that he will not be tied to Australia, which will still give Croatia hope they might be able to lure him away, but that remains a long shot, if his comments from yesterday are anything to go by.

"As I have said all along, ever since I was little I always wanted to play for Australia and that's how I felt. My heart is definitely with Australia and at the end of the day it-s not really a hard decision to make at all," he said.

Even though Spiranovic has represented Australia at youth level, the debate about his international status has come about, because of his sudden rise to prominence, which has happened much quicker than even he expected, since he arrived at Nurnberg for trials and was quickly signed up. His mid-season signing saw him join fellow countrymen Michael Beauchamp (also in camp with the Socceroos), Dean Heffernan and injured World Cup striker Joshua Kennedy, while Dario Vidosic will also join the club next season, once his commitments with the Qantas Under 23-s are completed in Jordan next week.

This alerted Croatia, who have made no secret that its looking to recruit any player with a Croatian heritage from around the world and already has three Australian Institute of Sport players in its national team squad - Ante Seric, Josip Simunic and Joey Didulica.

"Everything's happened so quickly, that-s football really” said Spiranovic. “You just get out there and do the best you can and I've been fortunate enough this season, the coach has believed in me and given me the opportunities.”

So has he still come to terms with everything yet?

"It's a bit surreal, but I suppose you have to take it all in. I suppose that's what football is all about - new challenges and testing yourself. That-s why you play the sport and you love it."

Spiranovic made ten appearances in all for FC Nurnberg - 8 in the Bundesliga and 2 in the Cup - with the Cup Final against Stuttgart last Sunday, where he came on in the second half and played 50 minutes of the match, being the obvious highlight. "It was probably one of the best days in my life, just to see how much it meant for the fans in Nuremberg and to the club was pretty special," he said.

“To get out there and play for 50 minutes, I can-t really explain the feeling, but after the game, once it kind of sunk in a bit, it felt pretty good."

Spiranovic though remains pretty level headed and is not putting too many expectations on himself with regards the Uruguay match in terms of match time and wants to enjoy the experience.

“The coach has said this is a match for the younger boys, but it-s the first time being in the national squad and for me it-s just a fantastic opportunity, learning as much as possible off the boys.

“For me its just an awesome experience and I feel very honoured (to be here).”

Ironically if he does play, he will be the youngest player at 18 years 340 days to make his international A debut since his likely captain on Saturday Lucas Neill, who debuted in 1996 against Saudi Arabia at 18y 214d. He will also jump ahead of fellow Socceroo teammate Brett Emerton at 18y 350d, when he debuted in 1998 against Chile.

With Arnold admitting there are six spots up for grabs and that the Asia Cup is in part looking ahead to the 2010 World Cup, Spiranovic is in with a great shout of making the Asia Cup squad.

And given the current stocks of defenders has dwindled significantly since the World Cup last year, one gets the feeling if he was to make the 23-man squad, he might not be there just to make up the numbers.