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Jedinak hails influential Popovic

22 February 2013-SBS: Philip Micallef

mile jedinak crystal palace

Masked warrior ... Mile Jedinak wearing the protective mask (Getty)

Crystal Palace captain and Australia midfielder Mile Jedinak said he is not surprised by Tony Popovic's success with Western Sydney Wanderers.

Popovic is the mastermind behind the Wanderers' surge to second spot on the A-League ladder a year after leaving the assistant's role at Palace to take up the reins of the competition's newest club.

Jedinak, who is leading the Palace side fighting for promotion to the Premier League, said Popovic was a natural leader who is still highly regarded at Selhurst Park.

"His success at the Wanderers does not surprise me one bit,” Jedinak said, on his way to training for the weekend match at Sheffield Wednesday.

"I worked with him for only a season but what he brought to Palace with his football knowledge was significant.

"He works hard and he's got a way of doing things which earned him a lot of admiration and respect from everyone he deals him.

"He left a very good impression on the place. They keep asking me about how he's going in Sydney every week."

Popovic played a key role in persuading then Palace manager Dougie Freedman to lure Jedinak from Turkey's Super Lig to London, at the start of last season.

"I'm sure they asked Tony about me. However it's one thing earning a good reference but you've got to back it up yourself with good performances,” Jedinak said.

"But with the influence he had around the place they would have taken his word very seriously."

Jedinak's Palace side is fourth in the Championship, nine points behind leader Cardiff City and four behind Hull City, which it meets in what is shaping as a decisive match early next month.

The top two teams will go up automatically and the next four will fight for the remaining spot via the lottery of the play-offs.

"It's going all right at the moment and from the season we're having we are in a good position,” Jedinak said.

"We know there's a lot to go yet to be where we want to be but we are heading in the right direction.

"We are still in touch with the top two but you really cannot discount anyone. It's very tight and I'd say any one of the top 12 teams can make a late surge and be promoted.

"We have some important games coming up, particularly the home game with Hull early next month.

"But we have learned this year that we cannot afford to focus too much on single games.

"The Hull game could affect our position in the table but it won't shape our season."

Jedinak is playing with a protective mask after he was elbowed in the face during the match against Huddersfield Town in an ugly incident in January.

He was rushed to hospital but was subsequently cleared of any damage to his eyes.

"I have to wear it for a few more weeks, mostly as a precaution," he said.

Jedinak made a name for himself with Central Coast Mariners between 2006 and 2009 before moving to Genclerbirligi in Turkey, where he had mixed fortunes.

He moved to south London at the start of 2011-2012 and soon endeared himself to the Palace faithful with his consistent displays and commitment to the club colours.

His performances did not go unnoticed and at the start of this season he received an attractive offer from Qatar.

But he knocked it back, preferring to concentrate on his unfinished business at Palace.

"There was an opportunity to go to Qatar but it was not the right time for me,” he explained.

"I had only been at Palace for a season and I felt I had a lot more to give to the club.

"In the end it was a simple decision in terms of where I wanted to play my football.

"I'm glad I stuck with the club also because there is the chance of playing in the Premier League.

"I don't want to get ahead of myself but we are all hoping that we get there this season."

Jedinak is now an established Australia midfielder with 37 appearances to his credit, after making his debut in a friendly match against Singapore in March 2008.

He also realised his childhood dream of playing in a FIFA World Cup but his participation in 2010 lasted barely 19 minutes when he came on as a substitute in the ill-fated match against Germany, which the Socceroos lost 4-0.

Jedinak, who should be selected in Holger Osieck's squad for the 2014 World Cup qualifying match against Oman in Sydney on 26 March, said he was keen to make a more telling contribution to Australia's cause this time around, provided it qualifies for Brazil 2014.

"We all know the situation we are in and how many qualifying games are left so it's going to be a big game," he said.

"But we are playing at home in Sydney so that's a massive thing for us.

"Of course, if we get to Brazil I would want to be playing a bit more.

"Everybody would want to be involved and I'm not different.

"It's hard to describe what it feels like playing in a World Cup.

"It's the biggest and most watched competition in the world and when I was growing up I dreamed of one day playing in it.

"So when I got that first experience I cherished it and I certainly want another taste of it if I get the chance.

"It was a huge part of my career and one that I will never forget."

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