The ‘unbelievable’ Champions League feat within Degenek’s grasp

Every aspiring athlete dreams of competing on the biggest stage possible. Milos Degenek could be about to achieve that feat – for the third time in one year.

Almost one year and one week ago to the day, the Caltex Socceroos defender provided two crucial assists to help Red Star Belgrade come back from a two-goal deficit and pip Red Bull Salzburg to qualification for the 2018/19 UEFA Champions League Group Stage.

It made Degenek, who heralds from Serbian ancestry, an instant hero and catapulted him to the forefront of Belgrade fans’ minds.

Now, on Thursday (from 5am AEST), the 25-year-old could play a crucial role in helping his Red Star earn a spot in their second-straight campaign when they face Swiss Champions Young Boys in the first of two defining play-off legs.

That was anything but likely just months ago.

Red Star Belgrade v Young Boys is on Optus Sport from 5am AEST on Thursday.

In January 2019, just six months after joining Red Star Belgrade, Degenek departed Serbia for one of Asia’s biggest clubs – Al Hilal – even though he wasn’t “110%” ready for the transfer to the Saudi club at the time.

“It was a good move for my future, for my family and for everything. But it was something deep down in my mind that I wasn’t really 110%,” Degenek told

“I was 24 at the time and wanted to stay in Europe and see how far I could go in after the six months I had in Red Star.

“When I went over there [to Al Hilal] I turned my focus to the football and to the club and to win the league and try and qualify for the [AFC] Champions League, which we did do. 

“I had a good six months there but there was a lot of big change in the club with a new coach coming in, new president, new everything and they wanted to start fresh. 

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“I pushed to come back home to enjoy my football again, to try and play European football again, and to try to play in the best European football competition I can, which is the (UEFA) Champions League.”

The result was Degenek returned to Red Star on loan in July, and now he has his sights on qualifying for a third Champions League competition over two continents (Europe and Asia) all within one year.

It’s a feat that no other Australian has replicated in the same manner.

Alex Wilkinson helped two sides qualify for three Champions Leagues within one year - Central Coast Mariners and Jeonbuk Motors – but that was across different countries and not different continents.

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Tom Rogic also played a role in the Mariners and Celtic qualifying for three Champions Leagues, but he wasn’t with the Central Coast club when they sealed their Group Stage spot for the 2014 AFC Champions League.

That contrasts to Degenek, who played a vital role in helping Red Star qualify last year and has been crucial in their journey this time around.

He’s become a stalwart in Red Star’s defence, which was exemplified through keeping his cool to slot a potentially campaign-defining penalty in Belgrade’s previous round of qualifying.

WATCH: Degenek’s Red Star advance in epic Champions League qualifier

Milos Degenek scores a crucial penalty in the shootout against FC Copenhagen

With the second leg of Red Star’s play-off tie against FC Copenhagen deadlocked after 120 minutes, the game was decided by a mammoth 22-kick penalty shootout.

Degenek was the eighth Belgrade player to step up. He converted as his side went on to triumph 7-6 and set up a final two-legged play-off against Young Boys.

Despite the pressure of the spot-kick, Degenek said he embraced the moment.

“I honestly was calm and relaxed. I didn’t really respond too much; their goalkeeper kept shaking around and moving about and their fans were booing,” he said.

“It’s just a matter of staying calm and not caring what’s happening around; just keeping focus, and that’s what I did. 

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“I put the ball away and it was a bit of a relief as we needed to score to get a bit of an advantage to put the pressure on them.”

Now, Degenek is fixated on helping his club qualify for a second-straight Champions League, which would “mean the world to the club” and fans.

“It would mean a lot to the fans to be in the Champions League two years in a row. It’s a massive thing,” said Degenek.

“The whole city shuts down (for each game). Every bar, pub, restaurant, café. Every TV is pointed at us and everything’s at a standstill for those 90 or 120 minutes. 

“It’s unbelievable. Without a doubt we have the best fans in the world and to be honest they make every game - whether it’s home or away - feel like a home game because the amount of support that they give us.

“The first game’s away and the second game’s at home and I think even that second game that’s played here - if we had a stadium that could fit 200,000 people - I think that would be sold out within hours. 

Degenek's Instagram post after an epic shootout win over FC Copenhagen

“It’s something we really want to achieve, and it’s something that I think we want to do as a team and to bring happiness and success to all the people, the fans, the club and all us players as well.”

While Degenek has the prospect of Champions League qualification to look forward to, he is also determined to contribute to Caltex Socceroos’ bid to qualify for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022.

The defender is looking forward to the prospect of hopefully taking the field against Kuwait in September and Nepal (in Canberra) in October.

“There’s nothing better than playing for your country and playing World Cup qualifiers to try to get to the World Cup. I’m very keen and very excited and looking forward to those games if selected,” said Degenek. 

“I’m a player who’s not going to shy away from nothing and I’m obviously hoping to be in the squad, playing contributing and playing well for my country to help us qualify for the World Cup.”

He added: “Arnie the staff are unbelievable. It’s a tight knit family and we’re all pulling in the same direction, everyone’s doing well. It’s very exciting and something I look forward to every time I go into camp.”

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FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ and AFC Asian Cup China 2023™ – Preliminary Joint Qualification Round 2

Kuwait v Australia
Date: Wednesday, 11th September 2019
Venue: Al Kuwait Sports Club Stadium
Kick-off: 1:30am AEST
Broadcast: Live in Australia on FOX SPORTS, Kayo Sports, and via the My Football Live App, Live Fast and Data Free for Telstra mobile customers

Australia v Nepal
Date: Thursday, 10 October 2019
Venue: GIO Stadium, Canberra
Kick-off: 7:30pm AEST
Tickets: Football Family on sale 1pm Tuesday, 13 August 2019; General Public on sale 1pm Thursday, 15 August 2019 – visit for details
Broadcast: Live in Australia on FOX SPORTS, Kayo Sports, and via the My Football Live App, Live Fast and Data Free for Telstra mobile customers

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