Galekovic: ''I'm aiming for South Africa''
In less than 18 months, Eugene Galekovic has gone from the Telstra Dome bench to the fringes of Australia's squad as they look towards the 2010 World Cup.
The 27-year-old Adelaide United goalkeeper is facing his former club Melbourne Victory in the Major semi-final of the A-League at the end of the best season of his career; and he made some crucial saves in the wake of a Melbourne onslaught - including two brilliant stops in the first-half - as Adelaide lost the first leg 2-0 at Hindmarsh Stadium on February 7th.
Earlier this season, Galekovic was a key figure in the Reds' impressive march to the AFC Champions League final, played in the World Club Cup in Japan, earned his first Socceroo cap and was crowned A-League Goalkeeper of the Year.
Winning the A-League with Adelaide would cap a remarkable few months for the man who played second fiddle to Melbourne 'keeper Michael Theoklitos before his move to South Australia in October 2007.
With Croatian heritage, he was born in Melbourne and played his junior football for Chelsea Hajduk in the city's southeastern suburbs. Impressive stints in the old National Soccer League with Morwell Falcons and South Melbourne saw Galekovic chosen for the Athens Olympics where he kept Middlesbrough's Brad Jones on the bench as Australia made the quarter-finals.
He had a less than successful spell in the Portuguese league in 2004 with Beira Mar where he was deputy behind former Newcastle United custodian Pavel Srnicek at a club that got relegated.
He joined Melbourne Victory for the inaugural A-League season and, after being part of an unusual goalkeeper rotation policy, fell behind Theoklitos in the pecking order and watched from the sidelines as Melbourne won the 2007 Grand Final - against Adelaide United.
However, his former foes have provided a happy home for Galekovic whose tidy and nerveless displays in the AFC Champions League - especially away from home - caught the eye of national coach Pim Verbeek. He picked him ahead of Theoklitos as well as capped A-League 'keepers Ante Covic and Clint Bolton - and ex-Olympic team stars Danny Vukovic and Tando Velaphi - for the Asian Cup qualifier against Indonesia on January 29th.
A clean sheet before a huge crowd in Jakarta followed eight more in the A-League season and no fewer than six on the Asian stage. An excellent shot-stopper, who positions himself well, Galekovic has been hailed by some local observers as an Australian version of England international Paul Robinson.
A quiet team man, nicknamed 'Euge' who's said to be a Facebook junkie, Galekovic speaks about his breakthrough season and his 2010 World Cup ambitions with ESPNsoccernet.
Q: Eugene, what's it like to be facing your former club Melbourne Victory in the A-League finals?
A. It's always good to play against your old team, especially when your friends and family come down to support you. It's also good to play against your old mates where we had so much success together.
Q: How do you look back now on your decision to move to Adelaide and the way that it's worked out for you?
A. It's been sensational. I would never have dreamed of getting so far in the Asian Champions League and competing in the Club World Cup in Japan with Adelaide. It's really been a dream come true.
Q: What's the special quality of this Adelaide United side that makes it so successful at home and in Asia?
A. There's a good camaraderie in the changing room and the boys are great. We're not just team-mates but also mates off the pitch.
Q: What makes Aurelio Vidmar such a good young coach?
A. I think because he has used his playing experience as a positive, by seeing what his coaches did in his playing days. He and (assistant) Phil Stubbins have worked great together: they really complement each other.
Q: What memories stand out for you from Adelaide's run to the AFC Champions League final?
A. It was an amazing experience every time we qualified for the next stage. Particularly against (Chinese club) Changchun away to qualify for the quarter-finals and then to beat Kashima who have been the champions of Japan for the last two seasons.
Q: What was it like to make your Socceroos' debut in front of such a big crowd in Jakarta?
A. It was an honour to represent my country. I've been in the squads a few times but to actually play was an amazing experience.
Q: How big a dream would it be for you to make Australia's 2010 World Cup squad if the Socceroos go that far?
A. That's what I'm aiming for but all I can concentrate on is to do well for Adelaide United and hope I keep getting noticed and rewarded by getting more Socceroo caps.
Q: Which goalkeepers in world football do you admire the most and why?
A. I've always admired (former Socceroo) Mark Bosnich when he was playing in the English Premier League. He was the best 'keeper in the world at his peak. I was honoured to receive my goalkeeper of the year award from him.
• Sydney-born Jason Dasey (www.jasondasey.com) is an international broadcaster and corporate host. He covered the 2006 World Cup and 2007 Asian Cup for ESPN.