The defensive capabilities of the Australian national team have been much maligned of late and the question of just who could slot into central defence after the retirement of long time servant Craig Moore was the subject of much debate Down Under. Now however, it appears Australia may have found a late bloomer to ease those defensive worries in Sasa Ognenovski.
Initially, Michael Beauchamp, who appeared well suited for the role, having stepped in for a suspended Moore in the last summer’s World Cup game with Ghana, looked the answer. But since his return to Australia’s A-League, Beauchamp has failed to maintain both form and fitness. And this has opened the door for Sasa Ognenovski.
Former Queensland (now Brisbane) Roar and Adelaide United stalwart Ognenovski appears to be finally coming to the fore at the ripe old age of 31, and Socceroo boss Holger Osieck recently called the Seongnam Ilhwa centre back up to a national team training camp ahead of the upcoming friendly against Egypt. For the K-League based star, the wait for international involvement has been a long one.
A relative late comer to professional football, the affectionately known “Og-Monster” was brought into the fold at then-Queensland Roar by coach Miron Bleiberg in 2006. After an inauspicious start, including a sending off in his first match against A-League opposition in a pre-season game, Ognenovski set about building his reputation. After Bleiberg’s subsequent dismissal, the incoming Frank Farina set about using the strong defender in the starting line-up, firstly alongside Josh McCloghan, and then joined by Craig Moore the following season. With Moore the defender created the most austere defence in the A-League when the Roar finished in their highest position of third.
However, following this successful season, the Macedonia descended man-mountain moved to Adelaide United, where he soon began to shine as one of, if not the best, defender in the A-League. His time at the club included a memorable run to the Asian Champions League final, with the Reds finally coming undone to an efficient Gamba Osaka side.
With Asia now aware of his talent, it wasn’t long before a handful of clubs inquired after Ognenovski and thus the Melbourne-born defender left Hindmarsh Stadium for Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma of South Korea’s K-League. Whether or not it was the coach, Tae-Yong Shin, who had coached at Queensland Roar during Ognenovski’s time in Brisbane, or just the allure of a bigger competition and pay packet, the man that former Socceroos coach Pim Verbeek forgot, headed for greener pastures.
With many already championing Ognenovski’s cause during his final season with Queensland Roar and his following seasons with Adelaide United, Verbeek still refused to select the defender as he could not promise that the giant centre back would get more than a handful of caps as part of what was essentially a B-side when the Australia’s European stars were unavailable. It was mooted in response that Ognenovski was on his way to being capped by the land of his descendants, Macedonia, and the defender was even voted into second spot in the Macedonian footballing awards in 2009, behind Goran Pandev.
But with no cap eventuating from his motherland, Ognenovski continued to be on form for his club side, helping them to a second place finish in the league and Asian Champions League football, eventually captaining the side to a second personal final appearance where they now await battle with Iran’s Zob Ahan in Asia’s top tier tournament’s first single-leg final.
Following his heroics with Seongnam, the “Og-Monster” was nominated for the Asian Football Confederation’s Asian Player of the Year award alongside the likes of Manchester United’s Park Ji-Sung, CSKA Moscow’s Keisuke Honda and fellow countryman Tim Cahill.
With this announcement the national coaching staff have suddenly found it prudent to call up the often bearded warrior to the Socceroos set-up. With large looming questions over who will partner captain Lucas Neill in the centre of defence, Ognenovski seems to have the stage set for him to make an impression and push for a starting berth in January’s Asian Cup in Qatar. And with his experience in Asia being so vast for an Australian, and so little in the way of quality alternatives in his path, he is sure to be the frontrunner for the position.
Currently playing the football of his career, the only question mark which hangs over Ognenovski is concern about the defender’s age, for at 31 he is reaching the climax of his career. Also worries about his availability for a 2014 World Cup campaign have been raised with the defender being 35 by the time the tournament in Brazil rolls around. However, with some players at the most recent World Cup pushing 35 and over (Andre Ooijer and Giovanni van Bronckhorst for finalists Holland stood out), there could yet still be room for the “Og-Monster” if he chooses to be there.
Enjoying Korean life, the former Brisbane Roar favourite will surely be looking forward to making his debut for Australia and finally getting the just recognition he deserves; maybe then this committed defender will one day be known as the “Oz-Monster”.