Soccer-Hrustic’s return adds a touch of class to Australia’s qualifying campaign

By Thomson Reuters Mar 21, 2024 | 11:25 PM

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Ajdin Hrustic was one of Australia’s most influential players in the lead-up to the last World Cup but two years of injury and club issues have largely deprived the Socceroos of his deft touch in midfield.

The 27-year-old made a welcome return as a substitute during Thursday’s 2-0 qualifying win over Lebanon, which kept Australia firmly on course for a sixth straight appearance at the World Cup finals.

“Feels great,” Hrustic told the Socceroos website after his cameo.

“It’s been a long time, I’ve missed it and felt good to be back home, out on the pitch with the boys and to get three important points.”

Hrustic suffered an ankle injury in the lead-up to the last World Cup finals and his contribution in Qatar was limited to spells off the bench as Australia reached the last 16.

That will only drive his ambition to help Australia get to the 2026 finals in United States, Mexico and Canada.

“I think I’ve still got unfinished business with the World Cup,” he added.

“I went through a difficult period with an injury where I forced myself to play and I did what I could, but unfortunately it didn’t work out as I wished.”

A Europa League winner with Eintracht Frankfurt in 2022, Hrustic’s injury woes were compounded by his struggle for game time at Italian club Hellas Verona and he missed out on the squad for the Asian Cup earlier this year.

His recall to international football came after a move back to the country where he started his professional career with a transfer to Dutch club Heracles Almelo last month.

“It was a very important step for me and I thought about how and what was best for my career and what’s best for myself and it came late, the move, but it was one that I think was worth waiting for,” he said.

A fully fit Hrustic would be great news for Australia, who have struggled to score goals throughout Graham Arnold’s second spell as coach.

Although Hrustic’s goal-scoring record is modest, he has a proven ability to unlock defences and provide opportunities for others.

“I love getting on the ball,” he said. “I love giving the final pass, I love assisting the boys, I love seeing the strikers work so hard and then I do what I can, use my quality so I try what I can to make others happy and also myself.”

(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Peter Rutherford)