Monday, November 22, 2010

Too late a call-up, too short a season

The story of behemoth Aussie Central Defender Sasa Ognenovski is a curious one. The thirty-one year old epitome of the word "Colossus" was recently selected on the five-man shortlist for the Asian Footballer of the Year award due to his performances for Seongnam in the K-League and made his Full International debut.

After a career in the Australian NSL and it's associated minor leagues - and a cup of coffee with Panachaiki in Greece - Ognenovski was among the earliest players selected for the fledgling A-League's first season in 2006-07 and proved a rock in defence for the Queensland Roar. After eighteen months he moved to Adelaide to compete in the Asian Champions League where his star shone brightly. Given his gargantuan frame and above-average athleticism when compared to his opponents, the Big Fella excelled in Asia and suddenly became the hottest property in AFC football and was the subject of bids from two K-League squads.

He chose Seongnam over FC Seoul and has recently led that squad to the Asian Football Confederation Champions' League title. For some reason though he remained unable to crack the Australian international squad even when that team had to be comprised of only Asian-based players. Recent national managers - yes, Pim Verbeek, I mean you - ignored him despite dominant form and a paucity of other options while searching for a foil for Lucas Neill at the heart of the Australian defence. Given his excelling in Asia, it was puzzling to watch clubless and speedless Craig Moore partner captain Neill at this year's World Cup but by not calling the leviathan up sooner Verbeek had left himself no option. It's no coincidence that Australia was exposed for position in South Africa: without pace Moore couldn't get to the right spots and without the requisite size Neill struggled to deal with opponents in the air.

There's no question that Big Sasa's an Aussie but snub after snub despite his good form brought the 6'5 defender to despair and nearly to accepting a call-up from the Macedonian national team, the country in which his parents were born. Indeed, Macedonia wanted him and he was voted in 2008 that country's second best player behind Inter Milan's Goran Pandev. It took a nomination for AFC Player of the Year to secure his international bow and thankfully new coach Holger Osieck last week stopped the rot to give the 31-year old his first Cap in the Socceroo's 3-0 loss to Egypt.

A mistake, surely, and one that's now been rectified, at least in part. But given 33 year-old striker Kevin Davies made his debut for England last month and The Leviathan's relatively late start in the big-time, there remains hope that Ognenovski will prove as effective in International Competition as he has in Asia. His hope - and probably the Green and Gold Army's - should not be to just play in the 2011 Asian Cup but to to emulate Moore and partner Matthew Spiranovic or Rhys Williams at 35 years of age to the 2014 Brazil World Cup.

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