ADELAIDE United midfielder Steven Lustica has revealed how Croatia tried to select him for their Under-21 side when he was at Hajduk Split - but his ambition is to play for the Socceroos.
Lustica spent two years in Croatia with Hajduk, with loans spells to second division side NK Dugopolje and Brisbane Roar, before joining the Reds this season.
The 22-year Canberra product old has been one of Adelaide’s most impressive performers this season and a regular fixture in the side.
Lustica moved to Hajduk in June 2011 from Gold Coast United after representing Australia at Under-20 level. He controversially opted to miss the 2011 U20 World Cup after being pressured by his club.
“It was a tough position at the time,” Lustica said. “I had just signed for Hajduk Split and the season was about to start. The season was starting at the same time as the U20 World Cup was on.
"My club told me that they didn’t want me to go, the coach said I was part of his plans for the season, that I was close to the team, that I’d be starting in the league regularly and that’s what happened as well.
"I was in a position where my club needed me for the season and with games coming up. I was in a difficult position and in the end, I played some games.
"I played against Barcelona and played in some league games as well and cemented my spot for the season. Looking back on it, I don’t have any regrets.
"Obviously I would have loved to go and play for Australia at the U20 World Cup, but at the time it was a hard position to be in.”
Lustica was later approached by the Croatian Football Federation to play for its junior national side.
“They had a tour of Australia, the Croatian U21s were coming to Australia for a tour and play some games here,” he said.
“I actually got selected for that by the Croatian Federation, they sent out a letter to my club. It would have been a tough position for me but in the end, the tour didn’t go ahead.”
Lustica made 21 appearances for the Young Socceroos between 2009 and 2011. His cousin, 19-year old Sydneysider Steven Urgarkovic who plays for Croatian side NK Osijek, played two matches for Croatia’s U19s team this year.
“My goal has always been to play for the Socceroos,” Lustica said. “I’ve played a number of games for the Young Socceroos and I’ve always been proud of that.
"It’s definitely one of my goals to play for the Socceroos one day."
The midfielder made 10 appearances for Hajduk Split in his first season with the club and then played 10 games on loan at Dugopolje.
In the 2012-2013 campaign, he made seven appearances for Hajduk before joining Brisbane on loan. Lustica was released by Hajduk Split in September last year but regards his two years in Croatia as a great experience.
“Hajduk’s one of the biggest clubs in Croatia,” he said. “To play for the team I’ve always supported as a child as well for me was a dream come true.
"To go over there and play for Hajduk, the fanbase over there is amazing. There were a lot of great experiences over there and to play in some big games as well.
"Probably one of the highlights was beating Inter Milan at the San Siro.
"That was phenomenal to go the San Siro and play there, and to win as well, even though we got knocked out of the qualifying round it was a great achievement.”
Named as the National Youth League’s Player of the Year in 2010-2011 while at Gold Coast United, Lustica scored two goals in his 12 appearances for Roar last season.
The playmaker has settled well at Hindmarsh Stadium in this campaign but aims to try his hand overseas again at some point in the future.
“I’m enjoying my time in the A-League, the standards are high and for me at this moment it’s the perfect league to be playing in,” Lustica said.
“Obviously you want to improve each game but I’ve been happy. You try and work on your game and do the best that you can. For now I’m just concentrating on Adelaide, I’m not looking too far ahead.
"But that’s one of my goals, one day, to go back overseas. I’m just concentrating on my time at Adelaide, trying to improve as a player and do well for the team.”