Australia youth international Steven Lustica says playing in Hajduk Split's shock 2-0 win at Inter Milan in the Europa League earlier this month was the “greatest moment of his football career”.
The 21-year-old Canberra-born midfielder, who left Gold Coast United for Hajduk in June last year, played his part in the surprise triumph at the San Siro where he came up against the likes of Wesley Sneijder, Diego Milito and Walter Samuel.
The 2010-11 NYL Player of the Season came off the bench on 83 minutes as the Croatian club searched in vain for a late goal which would have forced extra time, before they eventually lost out on aggregate, having been defeated 3-0 at home in the first leg.
“To play against Inter Milan in a Europa Cup game and beat them 2-0 at the Stadio Meazza was the greatest moment of my football career,” Lustica told GGArmy. “It has also been described as one of Hajduk Split’s greatest victories in its 100 year history.”
The appearance in front of almost 45,000 fans was a far cry from his days at Gold Coast playing in front of paltry crowds at Skilled Park.
“The atmosphere is a little hard to describe a crowd of 44,000 of which, 4,000 were Torcida fans (Hajduk Split supporters). Torcida outsung and outvoiced the Inter Milan fans on their own home ground. It was like the home game in Split one week earlier,” he said.
“Maybe it was the inspiration of the fans one week earlier that raised the level of our performance on the field in Milan. It felt like we owed them something.
“In the first leg in Split we actually played very well and created a few chances in the first 20 minutess before Inter scored. We continued to attack Inter during the game, but ended up losing 3-0, however we had two great chances to score in the last few minutes of the game.
“The amazing thing about this game was that the entire crowd of 35,000 stood up in the 90th minute and began clapping until the end of the game and this continued for 10 minutes after the final whistle.”
He added: “Inter finished the game with substituting Sneijder for a central defender as we did search for that third goal, which showed how much we had rattled them.
“I came on in my normal position of central midfield and obviously hoping to contribute to an equalising goal. Unfortunately we could not get that elusive third goal to send the game into extra time but at the end of the game we all knew what we had achieved.”
Despite missing out on the main Europa League draw with the aggregate defeat, Lustica revealed the club's fans incredibly greeted them in numbers upon their return in Croatia in the early hours of the next morning.
“More than 400 supporters waited for us at Split Airport at 3.30 am for our flight to land. When we arrived at the terminal the place erupted into an incredible sound of Hajduk songs and chants,” he said.
“Our coach and fans are more than proud of our achievements in Milan, however the players are aware that we must continue to perform at this level on a consistent basis now during the rest of the season.”
Lustica has made four appearances in all competitions this term for Hajduk having spent the latter half of last campaign on loan at the club's second tier affiliate Dugopolje.
“The experience was fantastic as I won the league championship with Dugopolje,” Lustica said, before adding: “Things are great here in Split and Hajduk, pre-season went well and I have kept injury free.
“I am getting good game time and have played in two Europa league games. We have a very young team with our average age around 22. The demands from the supporters of Hajduk Split are always high.”