Dejan Stanković admitted that although at times he feels he "was born to wear the national team shirt" he never thought he would reach 100 caps: on Tuesday, when Serbia meet the Faroe Islands, he will.
"It's amazing," said the FC Internazionale Milano midfielder. "I've always striven to play for the national team, like all players. A hundred matches? It is a long list, a big challenge. I never thought about the milestone, you can't afford to. You always have to just concentrate on the next match."
That applies as much as ever, with Serbia hoping to overhaul Slovenia in second place in UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying Group C. Vladimir Petrović's men trail on goal difference but with a match in hand; section leaders Italy have an all but unassailable lead. "At the moment, with all honesty, I am 100% focused on the Faroe Islands.
Three points and a big step to the EURO play-offs will be the greatest present for me. There will be time for everything else later."
As such the Football Association of Serbia (FSS) successfully requested to postpone the presentation of UEFA's new commemorative cap and medal for European national team players who have reached 100 caps. Stanković will instead receive it on 7 October when Serbia meet Italy, his home of 14 years, in Belgrade. Yet there is no questioning the allegiance of a man who marked his international debut in April 1998 with two goals in a friendly against South Korea.
There has been a lot of emotion, a lot of happiness, a lot of luck, a lot of urgency, a lot of pain," said Stanković. "The national team is a part of me, like a person. I am more than happy because I have a chance to be here. Some matches will be always stay with me, like the 2-2 draw with Croatia in Zagreb in 1999 that meant we finished top of the group and qualified for EURO 2000." Stanković scored another of his 15 international goals in that contest: the crucial second.
Already a veteran of the 1998 FIFA World Cup, the FK Crvena zvezda academy product represented Yugoslavia at UEFA EURO 2000 before further World Cups in 2006 and 2010 as Serbia. He admits the memories are not all good – the 6-0 defeat by Argentina in Germany in 2006 casts a significant shadow – "but those experiences made me too". The 32-year-old added: "I've played each of [my 99 caps] with heart. Now I'm happy and proud; who wouldn't be?
"I'm so happy when I look back, but likewise when I look ahead to the future, to new experiences and challenges." Stanković's next milestone is Savo Milošević's Serbian record 102-cap haul. Subject to fitness he will equal it in what is likely to be the pivotal meeting with Slovenia on 11 October but on the evidence of his first 99 appearances you feel he would happily swap the personal kudos for national honour and a play-off spot.
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