Twelve months ago, Erik Jendrišek was faced with the choice of a fine or training with 1. FC Kaiserslautern's reserves as a punishment for breaking club rules.
The 22-year-old, much to the surprise of his coach Milan Šašič, opted for the latter and played four matches for the fourth-division outfit before finally accepting a fine and returning to the first-team fold. Fast-forward a year, though, and Jendrišek – now a regular in the Kaiserslautern side – is a national hero: he scored the winning goal in Slovakia's 2-1 victory over the Czech Republic in Prague in their FIFA World Cup qualifier on 1 April.
Jendrišek, voted Slovakia's best junior player in 2002/03, received a pass from another international plying his trade in Germany's second tier, Miroslav Karhan, and beat Petr Čech at the second attempt to earn Slovakia's first win against their neighbours since 1997. "My girlfriend always tells me to fight until the end," said Jendrišek, who has two goals from five international outings. "That's what I did and I am so happy to have scored against Petr Čech and to have helped the team to such an important victory.
Moment to savour
"Suddenly [after 82 minutes in Prague] I became a hero, but that's football," he went on. "To tell the truth, I will relive that moment time and again, but I must add that it's unbelievable just how well my girlfriend understands the game."
Jendrišek certainly has a pedigree for scoring goals. As a junior he netted 51 times in a season with schoolboy club Dlhá nad Oravou; then, in 2005/06, he got 21 for MFK Ružomberok to finish as the Slovakian top flight's joint-leading marksman. Such form earned him a move to Hannover 96 the following season but, after no goals in nine substitute appearances, he joined Kaiserslautern on a three-year contract in summer 2007.
Playing in Germany's 2. Bundesliga has hardly deterred national-team coach Vladimír Weiss from selecting Jendrišek, who sees himself as an example to others in Europe plying their trade outside the élite divisions. "Why not? There is not a big difference between the first and second divisions. It is fantastic to play for the national team and I am still a young player."
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