Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

From refugee camp to Socceroos World Cup glory

Posted on 4 December 2017 by Ena Bilobrk
Thanks to the FIFA World Cup draw, we can finally pin down the first telly dates for June and have six months of long debates on who will make it through. But Miloš Degenek won’t spend the 16th of June in front of the telly. Instead, he will appear on it, hopefully making his World Cup debut for Australia against France. Ena Bilobrk spoke to the young defender about dreams, reality and World Cup hopes. 
“I would love to see us overcoming the group stage and I think we can”, said Degenek. The 23-year-old is currently playing for Yokohama F. Marinos in Japan’s J1 League and made his debut for the Australian national team last year. 
It was a long and tough qualifier for the Socceroos, but they managed to earn a World Cup spot for the fourth consecutive time. Yet Degenek’s way to the world’s premier sporting event was a lot harder. 
He admitted: “Never in my life had I thought I will play at the World Cup. I could only dream about it and now I made my dream come true.” Degenek was born in Croatia, but being Serbian his family was forced to flee to Belgrade where they lived as refugees during the Kosovo War. 

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He was only seven when they moved to Sydney. 
Although his origins are Serbian, Degenek is proud to play for the Socceroos: 
“The most important thing for me is that my national team, my country, plays a good World Cup. I don’t care about what others do. Of course, my parents live in Serbia now and it is a great country, but it wouldn’t be a goal for me to play against them.”
Yet, he added: “On the other hand, I would love to play against Croatia, as Ivica Olić is a good friend of mine and he is now assistant manager of their national team.”
The two played side-by-side during a troubled season at TSV 1860 Munich. Degenek managed to escape before the Bavarians were relegated to the German fourth tier after failing to pay for the third tier license. 

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“In the end we shouldn’t be looking that far ahead. We will focus from match to match and the first one will be the most important one. France are one of the best teams in the World Cup and if we play well against them anything could be possible”, explained Australia’s number two. 
The boys from Down Under avoided a group of death but will be doing well to reach the knockout rounds after being drawn against three teams ranked in the world’s top 12. 
He said: “Again, everything is possible. Football is being played over 90 minutes and to snitch a good result against Denmark and Peru won’t be easy but we won’t make it easy for them either.”
The Socceroos, based in Kazan during the tournament, will have another slight advantage to European teams. 
“Travelling long distances and heat is basically Australian’s every-day life. It is nothing new and nothing can surprise us. We will prepare like any other team and hope to overcome the group stage. After that, it is all down to whom you will play next, but again, I don’t want to think that far ahead”, he laughed.