Ben Somerford

While a lot of football followers have their eyes firmly fixed on the European Championships at the moment, a whole bunch of World Cup qualifiers are taking place throughout the rest of the globe, which are worth taking a closer look at.

Indeed, it is early stages for most confederations in their respective qualification processes, and these games usually get at most a passing glance from pundits and journalists alike.

But one result, which caught more than just the quick fleeting look earlier in the month, was the incredible match between Singapore and Uzbekistan, which ended 7-3 in favour of the Uzbekis.

And while that scoreline itself was quite remarkable, there was another incredible story inside the story here.

Casting your eye through the Singapore team sheet would simply make anyone curious. It seems the island nation has a lot of naturalised players amongst their ranks.

But one name which rings a bell for quite unbelievable reasons is Aleksandar (Alex) Duric.

Duric is someone who has come a long way to get to this point. Through wars, family crises, immigration issues and even the odd Olympic Games appearance.

Born in Bosnia at the beginning of the 70s, Duric grew up in a village by the Bosna River where he would kayak in the mornings, go to school during the day and play football in the afternoons. It was an active lifestyle for a youngster, but as Duric explained later in life “in a communist country, if you are a top sportsman, your future is very bright… you can be a doctor in my country and still not get paid as much”.

And while at such a young age, he probably didn’t see his natural hobbies as future career aspirations, it was obvious sport and the outdoors was something he loved.

At the age of 15, Duric was in the national team for canoeing but turned away from the sport and decided to focus on football. In 1990, he travelled to Sweden to try his hand at the game professionally.

But while in Sweden, Bosnia fell into civil war as the conflict between Duric’s people and the Serbs intensified during the early 90s.

Duric attempted to return home to find his family during the war but was prevented from re-entering the country. It was something which haunts him to this day. During the war his mother died, and Duric never got the chance to say goodbye to her. He too lost contact with his father and brother for 10 years.

This was one of many horrific hardships Duric would have to endure.

In the wake of the war in the early 90s, Duric settled in Hungary where he played professional football for FC Szeged. At the end of his first season with Szeged in 1992, Duric received a random phone call from the Bosnian Olympic Committee asking if he would like to represent his country in kayaking at the 1992 Barcelona Summer Olympic Games.

Duric agreed. The only problem was that the Bosnian Olympic Committee couldn’t pay for his passage to Barcelona. Duric was faced with a conundrum, but as he later explained “it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance for me and I couldn’t give it up”.

At the age of just 21, Duric decided to hitch-hike from Hungary to Spain. He would have to go through four countries just to get there and along the way experienced many people cautious of travelling Bosnians due to the war-ravaged climate of his homeland.


“I was stopped at a few places because all I had was a Bosnian passport and a letter from the Spanish Olympic committee. They thought I was seeking refugee status," Duric recalled. "I would hitch rides and the people would stop and ask me: ‘Where are you going?’ I would say I’m going to Spain to represent Bosnia in the Olympic Games. Everybody looked strangely at me.”

Eventually though Duric would make it to Barcelona for the games where he managed to reach the quarter-finals of the 500m kayak event. Duric’s highlight of the Olympics though, was walking out into the stadium during the Opening Ceremony in front of 100,000 people with his fellow Bosnian athletes representing their war-ravaged nation. There were only 10 Bosnians participating at the Olympics, but for them just being there, having gone through similar hardships, was a symbolic achievement and the crowd warmly cheered them on.

Duric looks back at his Olympics appearance with glee and laughter. It wasn’t too long after Barcelona he was travelling again and this time it was all the way to Australia.

All the way Down Under, Duric settled down to begin a new life, but again he soon wanted to play professional football and joined Australian club South Melbourne. Duric enjoyed several good seasons with the Melbourne based side and he was also granted Australian citizenship. Football in Australia though was mostly semi-professional in those days and most players required second jobs. It was a total change of lifestyle.

Despite having a somewhat settled life in Australia, Duric still longed for that professional football career he dreamt of, and in 1997 he had a brief stint in China with Super League club Locomotiv Beijing. He soon returned to Australia but it was a sign of things to come.

A couple more seasons in Australia’s top league followed before another brief stint abroad, this time in Singapore with Tanjong Pagar United where he had a fine campaign scoring 11 goals in one season.

Duric again returned to Australia until he finally decided to move to Singapore where he had been a big hit. He signed for S.League club Home United in 2000 and officially made the move to the island nation.

The Bosnia-born forward would reclaim that excellent form of a couple of years ago in Singapore as he scored plenty of goals in the S.League leading to a move to Geylang United where he won the league in 2001.

After scoring plenty more goals with Geylang and becoming known as the ‘Goal Machine’, Duric decided to move to rival club Singapore Armed Forces in 2005, for what should have been the twilight years of his career. Instead, Duric flourished and produced the best form of his career so far.

In 2007, Duric claimed almost every individual honour available in the S.League, including Player of the Year and the Golden Boot after scoring 37 goals during the regular season as his side won the league and cup double. Duric himself also became the all-time leading goalscorer in the S.League having scored well over 200 goals.

Needless to say, he had impressed in Singapore. In fact he had impressed so much, the Singaporean FA desperately tried to get Duric to become a Singapore citizen so he could play for their national team.

The situation in Singapore at the moment is a peculiar one, with several members of their national team not being born or raised in the island nation. Players such as English expats Daniel Bennett and John Wilkinson or Chinese-born Shi Jiayi have become Singapore national team members, which has in turn created much debate about the issue of players swapping international allegiances.

Nonetheless after living in Singapore for over six years, Duric was willing to complete his citizenship. In September 2007, Duric officially became a Singaporean citizen and three days later he was called up to the national team for a World Cup qualifier with Tajikistan.

Incredibly, on his debut for the Singapore national team, Duric scored a brace as the Lions went on to qualify for the third round of the AFC World Cup qualifiers for the first time ever.

Thus a couple of weeks later Singapore were drawn in the World Cup qualifying group with Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan.

Such was Duric’s popularity in Singapore, that in the preparation games for the third round World Cup qualifiers he got the opportunity to become the first ever non Singapore-born player to start for the national team wearing the captain’s armband. He also got an opportunity to play against his old nation Australia in March 2008 and he almost scored as his teammates rallied for an unlikely 0-0 friendly draw.

Finally though on the 2nd of June 2008, Singapore would face Uzbekistan in that incredible 7-3 match. As it would happen, Uzbekistan scored first before Duric levelled for Singapore early in the first half. At that stage, no one would have expected what happened next to happen next, but that seems to be the trend with anything Duric touches.

Duric’s story is an amazing one, from war-torn Bosnia, to the glory of the Olympic Games, to life in sunny Australia and onto fame and fulfilling his footballing dreams in Singapore. And despite being some 38 years young, perhaps there’s a few more chapters still to be written in the Duric story. Indeed, if he ever settles down to write his autobiography, it will make for fascinating reading.