Durica dreaming of ticket to England

PRETORIA - Slovakia defender Jan Durica is a man with two big dreams - playing football in the English Premier League and taking his country to the World Cup final.

While the latter seems unlikely for a country making its debut at the tournament as an independent nation, his other ambition has many precedents as previously unheralded players have joined big clubs on the back of international success.

"I want to go to England, it is my dream," the 28-year-old told Reuters in an interview on Thursday at the team's luxury hotel in central Pretoria.

"I hope there is the opportunity for me (after the World Cup)."

Central and Eastern European countries have a good record of making the big clubs' mouths water with some talented players who make their names on the international stage.

Czechs Pavel Nedved and Karel Poborsky were snapped up by Lazio and Manchester United after the team's run to the Euro 1996 final, while Andrei Arshavin, Diniyar Bilyaletdinov and Yuri Zhirkov signed for Premier League clubs following Russia's impressive showing to reach the Euro 2008 semi-finals.

Durica, who has the unfortunate record of scoring more own goals than goals for his country, currently plays for Lokomotiv Moscow.

"When I was young, it was my dream, now I'm here at the World Cup. Football is my hobby and my job, I'm a very lucky man," the centre back said.

Slovakia can look to Croatia's surprise run to the semi-finals of the 1998 World Cup - also their first as an independent country - for inspiration in South Africa, where they are in Group F with Italy, Paraguay and New Zealand.

"We've got the chance to get out of the group and show people our strength. Of course the dream is the semi-final, the final - anything is possible," said Durica.

It is not just internationally that the Slovak players will become better known.

In their country the sport plays second fiddle to ice hockey but their qualification for South Africa has lifted the game's profile considerably.

"There is a big 'wow' in Slovakia now, of course people are more interested in football now," said Durica.

"I think the fact that we qualified has woken our fans up. It just such a shame that it is so far away to come here and so expensive for our people."

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