Socceroos defender Milos Degenek is confident he can overcome his lack of recent football to play an important role in Australia’s World Cup campaign in Qatar.
One of the first arrivals at the Socceroos’ Aspire Academy World Cup base in Doha, Degenek hasn’t played since October 9, when his American club Columbus Crew finished its Major League Soccer campaign.
In his first season with Crew, 28-year-old Degenek made 29 appearances in all competitions, including 24 starts.
Crew finished eighth in the Eastern Conference and 16th on the overall table, which wasn’t enough to secure a spot in the playoffs.
However, Degenek he’s in “peak shape” and “really fit” ahead of the Socceroos’ opening World Cup Group D match against France on November 23 (AEDT).
“I continued to train in America (after Crew’s final match) for the next 10, 12 days,” Degenek said.
“Then I flew to Serbia to see my wife, and daughter, and family, who I haven’t seen for five or six months, and then I continued to train with Red Star Belgrade, my old club, who welcomed me with open arms, and I appreciate that.
“I was training there for a good two weeks every day. I’m in peak shape and really fit and ready for this World Cup.”
Qatar 2022 will be Degenek’s second World Cup, and only five players in Australia’s 26-man squad – captain Mat Ryan, Mathew Leckie. Aaron Mooy, Aziz Behich, Jackson Irvine – have made more appearances for the Socceroos.
While facing a stiff task to be named in Australia’s starting team for the game against France, Degenek’s experience will be vital among a squad that contains 17 players at a World Cup for the first time.
“I can bring that calm nature and that experience to help the boys if things are in need with a conversation outside the pitch,” he said.
“On the pitch I can bring that calmness and that work ethic, and the desire to win, and just my experience overall in these situations of playing against these (star) players that we are bound to play against over the next couple of weeks.”
Degenek urged the Socceroos’ World Cup first-timers to “soak in” the experience and not to forget the privilege of being part of the tournament.
“The most important thing is to smile and enjoy it because there are 832 players (from 32 squads) at this World Cup and you’re one of them,” he said.
“There are millions of footballers around the world so you have to know how fortunate you are to be here.”