It was a rough debut for Australian defender Milos Degenek. This, however, isn’t a surprise considering his team took a 1-0 lead over the defending champions, France, to go on then and lose the game 4-1. However, the 28-year-old member of Major League Soccer’s Columbus Crew isn’t known for joyous celebrations following a victory, whether it’s country or the club he’s competing for.
Degenek went on record to describe his post-game emotions, and even if Australia managed to hold onto their 1-0 lead versus France, his after-game thoughts likely wouldn’t have altered. The robust defender has noted he doesn’t take time to immediately enjoy the games he’s played, and when the final whistle, adrenaline settles down, it takes time for him to compose his feelings.
When discussing his 2-0 Champions League success over Liverpool when sporting a Red Star Belgrade shirt in 2018, Degenek didn’t enjoy the moment. When his team went to celebrate, he stayed home and watched the footage with his brother.
“I didn’t enjoy that game,” Degenek said. “After it, I wasn’t happy.”
Prior to Australia’s second World Cup group stage fixture with Tunisia, Degenek was hopeful of starting so he could once again display what he labels as his “lion mentality.”
“The lion mentality is you either eat, or you get eaten,” he said. “That’s the simplest way to put it … when we had a meeting with the boys, I said: ‘There’s bread on the table. Either we eat tonight – my kids, my wife, and my family – or they eat, and my kids and wife to go sleep hungry.’
“I don’t want that to happen, and I use that term – when that bread is on the table – I want to take it; I want to keep my wife and my kids happy.”
— OptaJason (@OptaJason) November 29, 2022
From Belgrade to Australia, From Europe to America
Degenek’s family fled Knin when he was a baby, and after gaining asylum in Australia, they settled in Western Sydney. After earning a position at the Westfields Sports High and Australia Institute of Sport programs during his teenage years, his talents on the pitch led him to Europe, where he competed for VfB Stuttgart in Germany.
Following stints throughout Europe with the likes of Red Star Belgrade, he eventually displayed his true talents with MLS’s Columbus Crew in the United States. At a domestic level, he and the Crew qualified for the 2022 MLS Cup playoffs but were unfortunately eliminated. This, however, didn’t complete Degenek’s season, as Australia would call him up for his first-ever World Cup appearance in Qatar. FanDuel Ohio promo codes were readily available ahead of his debut, and with a new US fan base, bettors were hoping for their MLS defender to shine as he has done in the North American league.
Look what it means to Milos Degenek. Extra feeling for @milosdegenek45.
Degenek fled the Yugoslavia war in the 1990s. He and his family eventually migrated to Australia.
— Sacha Pisani (@Sachk0) November 26, 2022
Degenek at the 2022 World Cup
With that said, Australia entered Qatar as massive underdogs, and with a loss to the French squad in their opening fixture, betting odds and hopes for the Aussies dwindled.
Ahead of their second matchday meeting with Tunisia, the Socceroos and Degenek didn’t give up hope. They were forced into a must-win situation, or at the very least, take one point when facing Tunisia to gain momentum in qualifying from the World Cup group stage.
“You must say must-win game; you think it’s pressure. I said to the boys the other day, that’s no pressure,” he said. “Pressure is me as an 18-month-old baby fleeing a war. Pressure is me as a six-year-old being in the middle of a war.
“Pressure isn’t a must-win football game. Because you can win or lose, but I don’t think anyone is going to die. That’s not pressure.
“This is just the joy of wanting to get better and wanting to have something to say to your grandkids and fans back home when you can say you won a game at a World Cup, you got out of the group.”
Degenek’s words of wisdom may have assisted Australia, as they went on to defeat Tunisia 1-0, and now, they dream of a position in the knockout phase of the 2022 World Cup.
Australia will now face Denmark in their final Group D meeting. Holding the Danes to a draw would see the Socceroos qualify if the French can hold Tunisia to at least a draw. And if Degenek’s calming approach to the biggest stage has a ripple effect, Australia could be competing in the World Cup playoffs for the first time in their history.