Degenek living boyhood dream in Belgrade

Socceroo Milos Degenek hopes Champions League football is not a one-off for Red Star Belgrade.
Socceroo Milos Degenek hopes Champions League football is not a one-off for Red Star Belgrade.

Socceroo Milos Degenek is living out a boyhood fantasy - but he hopes it sparks a bright new reality for Serbian football and his beloved club, Red Star Belgrade.

Degenek is still on a high after firing Red Star into the UEFA Champions League for the first time last week with a vital assist and then a headed goal seconds later that turned their qualification tie against Salzburg on its head.

Red Star hasn't made the group stage of Europe's elite club competition for 26 years.

Back then, it was still called the European Cup. And in 1991, the year before their last appearance, they won it.

Degenek was born three years later and grew up a Red Star Belgrade fanatic, carrying his affinity with him as he and his family eventually settled in Sydney.

The 24-year-old defender is still coming to terms with what he has achieved and what it all means for football in Serbia.

"It's obviously not a big club in terms of financial things and being a big European league, but it's a big club in my country," Degenek told reporters on a conference call from Turkey, where Graham Arnold is staging his first Socceroos camp this week.

"It's the club I've always dreamt of playing for.

"As I grew up in Australia, it's always been the club me and my family have supported... even through the tough years, the struggling period in Serb football, we always loved that club.

"Now that we've made the Champions League, now it is a big club in European football again."

The fairytale is likely to be short-lived - Red Star have been drawn in Group C alongside Paris Saint-Germain, Liverpool and Napoli, and will need a series of minor miracles just to reach the knockout phase.

But Degenek believes just being there will be enough to teach football fans in the region how to dream again.

"Financially, we're not up to standard in the world of football," Degenek said.

"It's all about heart and trying to prove yourself.

"We're hoping this sparks something and brings a bit of joy for us eastern Europeans and to help us get more clubs into the best competition in Europe.

"This means the world to the club. When we qualified, the whole city, the whole country pretty much stood still for 24 hours. Everyone was celebrating.

"This is hopefully a big turning point for Serbian football and my club as well."

Australian Associated Press