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Damjanović back from Beijing to help Montenegro

Dejan Damjanović may have played in Asia for the last eight years, but the Montenegro striker's immediate goals are closer to home: "Getting to France in 2016 is achievable."

Dejan Damjanović will hope to help Montenegro to victory against Liechtenstein on Thursday
Dejan Damjanović will hope to help Montenegro to victory against Liechtenstein on Thursday ©Savo Prelević

Dejan Damjanović has forged quite a reputation as one of the most formidable strikers in Asian club football; now he is hoping to make an impact with Montenegro in UEFA EURO 2016 qualifying.

Damjanović won two South Korean titles during a long spell with FC Seoul, becoming the K-League's all-time top scorer with 130 goals. In 2013, he played in the Asian Champions League final prior to moving to China, first with Jiangsu Guoxin-Sainty FC and now with Beijing Guoan FC. Having fulfilled many of his club goals far from home, Damjanović is dreaming of big things with his country.

"It is not a personal challenge because it doesn't matter if I score a lot of goals," said the 33-year-old. "I am proud to represent Montenegrin and European football in Asia in the best possible way. When I play for the national team, the most important thing is not to score but to give my best, to play with heart and passion for my country and, lastly, to play in a big competition such as EURO 2016."

Montenegro gained independence in 2006 and did not participate in qualifying for UEFA EURO 2008, before narrowly missing out on the 2012 final tournament following a play-off defeat by the Czech Republic. "We were close and it was painful, but that is in the past,” said Damjanović. "The good thing is we believe we can still make it. In qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, we had many problems with injuries and never had a full squad. Despite that, we were in contention until the penultimate game. Without those problems, France in 2016 is an achievable goal."

Though he has plied his trade away from Europe for a number of years, Damjanović remains a big star in Montenegro, on a par with former AS Roma and Juventus striker Mirko Vučinić and Manchester City FC forward Stevan Jovetić. "I am glad fans recognise my passion when I play for the national team," he said. "I enjoy every minute on the field and on the training ground with the lads. We are a good group and very ambitious because we know what it would mean for such a small country to reach a big competition.

"It would be a dream for us and the whole nation and it would be a good thing for European football as a whole. We could set an example for a lot of teams and show that size doesn't always matter when it comes to football.”

On a personal level, Damjanović, who has found the net seven times in 24 internationals, has no regrets that he has not tested himself in Europe during the peak of his career. "Going to South Korea eight years ago was the best decision I've ever made. It was difficult to settle into a new culture, a new way of life and a new style of football. It doesn't take long to adapt though, and I can now way that South Korea is like a second home. I'll be back there one day, but now I have a job to do in Beijing."