Over two years after winning his maiden Socceroos cap, attacking midfielder Ajdin Hrustic is hoping impressive early season form will earn him a return to the green and gold fold.
Coach Graham Arnold has already singled out the 23-year-old Eredivisie-based Hrustic for praise, hinting a recall might be on the cards when he names his squad later this month for September 11’s opening FIFA World Cup qualifier against Kuwait.
Melbourne-raised Hrustic - who is also eligible for Bosnia and Romania - missed out on January’s AFC Asian Cup but has never stopped pushing for another chance to step up.
He scored the winner in the season-opener for Groningen against Emmen and views this campaign as pivotal at both club and international level.
“We’ve got qualifiers coming up and I’m hoping to be back in the squad,” Hrustic told The World Game.
“That would be nice but we’ll see what happens.
“I thought I was going to be involved at the Asian Cup - Arnie did mention me beforehand - but he took James Jeggo instead.
“That’s the choice the manager makes and I have to respect that.”
Hrustic’s sole appearance to date came in the 4-0 friendly loss to Brazil in Melbourne back in mid-2017 under Ange Postecoglou.
He was also picked for Arnold’s first training camp with his new charges in Turkey a year ago.
The former Olyroo has progressed as a player since, winning the faith of Groningen coach Danny Buijs and new sporting director Mark-Jan Fledderus as he enters his fourth season with the club.
“I’ve chosen to play for Australia - I’m a Melbourne boy and it’s a dream come true for every Australian to pull on that green and gold shirt,” he said.
“I declined every offer to play for the other countries ... playing for Australia means a lot to me.”
In a testament to his talent and standing at Groningen, Hrustic has been handed a free role by Buijs, starting on the right but floating across the midfield and also into more offensive positions.
Arnold’s assistant Rene Meulensteen was there in person to watch Hrustic in action during last weekend’s 3-1 loss to Twente, where two red cards saw Groningen down to nine men for over half the match.
“We had a nice chat afterwards and we’ll just see what happens,” added Hrustic.
“Arnie knows that I’m playing a different role this season and it could be interesting for him. I hope it is.
“Last year I was playing more as a controlling midfielder and of course that’s still an option also.”
Once home to fellow Socceroo Jason Davidson, Groningen may not be one of Dutch football’s traditional powerhouses but Hrustic said their ambition runs deep.
“This isn’t a small club - we have our goals and we’re a club which concentrates on developing youth and has produced some big players in its history (including Liverpool’s star defender Virgil van Dijk),” added Hrustic.
“We play out from the back which suits me, and you see more of me coming out, finally.
“When you enjoy your football you perform.”