By Kadira Malkoc
"A glorious end to my international playing days." This was how Predrag Mijatovic described his dream of a place at UEFA EURO 2004™ when he last spoke to uefa.com in February.
Unfortunately things have not turned out that way for the veteran striker. Four months on and the death of that qualifying dream last week meant the 34-year-old's international career ended with a whimper. Mijatovic announced his retirement after the Group 9 defeats against Finland and Azerbaijan, which also prompted the resignation of coach Dejan Savicevic.
'Time for a change'
Reflecting on the "catastrophe" of back-to-back defeats in Helsinki and Baku, Mijatovic acknowledged it was "time for a change". He told uefa.com: "I announced my decision immediately after the match in Baku and now it is definite. After Dejan Savicevic resigned as national coach, I felt I needed to do the same. We did not succeed.
We suffered a real catastrophe and it is time for a change."
Time is over
The former national team captain added: "I am not leaving because I have doubts about my ability but I am 34 years old and my time is over. The national team should look at the next qualifying tournaments, even if the EURO 2004™ matches are still on. It is time for a fresh start and I will not be able to be play in Germany [at the 2006 FIFA World Cup]. It was the highest honour to wear the blue jersey."
Mijatovic won 73 caps in all, scoring 28 goals, and played in the Yugoslavia teams at the 1998 World Cup and EURO 2000™. Along with Savicevic and Drajan Stojkovic, now president of the Football Association of Serbia and Montenegro, he was part of a golden generation of players who made their mark by winning the 1987 FIFA World Youth Championship.
A native Montenegrin, he began his career with FK Buducnost in Podgorica before moving to FK Partizan, where he won the double in 1993. Now with second division UD Levante in Spain, he first arrived in Spain in 1993 to join Valencia CF. After three years at the Mestalla he moved on to Real Madrid CF and in 1998 scored the only goal in the UEFA Champions League final against Juventus FC - Madrid's first European crown in 38 years.
Returned to Spain
In 1999 Mijatovic tried his luck with AC Fiorentina in Italy but, following the club's bankruptcy last summer, he returned to Spain and Levante - a decision made for family reasons. "I decided to go to Levante because my son Andrija, who was born with an incurable disease, is being treated in Valencia," he said.
Mijatovic is now a free agent after Levante did not offer him a contract extension following their failure to win promotion. As with Gabriel Batistuta, a proposed move to Qatar is now a serious option for the 34-year-old, who feels he can carry on playing for another two years.
Two more years
I want to play for two more years and have an offer from Qatar, which I'm seriously thinking about," he said. "They are preparing for the Asian Games in 2006 and other famous players have already signed contracts to go there. Maybe this is a good opportunity for me, too. I don't have a lot of time to think, but I am sure I will take the right decision." Not quite the ending he had in mind, but another adventure nevertheless.
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