As WFC Naftokhimik prepare for their first taste of the UEFA Women's Cup second qualifying round they can rely on the talents of an Australian-born midfielder with roots in Estonia and trained in the United States, Aivi Luik.
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All three of Naftokhimik's winners against KŚ AZS Wrocław, FC PAOK and FC Levadia Tallinn were scored by Aivi Belinda Kerstin Luik, who was born in Australia but, as her surname suggests, has Estonian roots. Her parents were born in Hungary and Sweden, and Luik has just completed a degree in geography at the University of Nevada. She is currently on loan to Naftokhimik from leading American team FC Indiana, where she will return in January after agreeing a new contract.
"At first, the thought of moving to Ukraine was exciting," Luik told uefa.com. "Then the realisation that I knew very little about the country sank in and the idea became fairly daunting. But I love to travel and experience new things so all in all I was excited. The season ended successfully in the USA and Ukraine came to be the next step. The first day in the country was a culture shock, especially going from Kiev to Kalush. Things run differently here, but I like the change because for me, the saying 'variety is the spice of life' is all too true."
The 23-year-old, on loan along with South African striker Veronica Phewa from US Open Cup winners and W-League finalists Indiana, truly announced herself to Naftokhimik fans in September's mini-tournament in Poland. She claimed the only goals in 1-0 wins against Wrocław and PAOK before her last-gasp strike in the 2-1 success over Estonia's Levadia; Phewa having claimed the opener. Thanks to those victories, European debutants Naftokhimik are through to the second qualifying round, and on Thursday start their Group B4 campaign against Germany's FCR 2001 Duisburg before meeting Brøndby IF and Levante UD, whose line is led by the prolific Laura Del Río, also on loan from Indiana. "For me, to play in the UEFA competition is a once-in-a-lifetime experience," Luik said. "After watching the men play in the UEFA Champions League for years and to see how highly the competition is regarded, it makes me proud to have had the chance to play in it."
But then an international competition is right up the street of Luik, who began her career at Palm Beach Soccer Club in Queensland but followed her dream of professional football to the US, where at Indiana she has been part of a hugely successful club. While she is a proud Australian – and would prefer to play for their national team of the several for which she is eligible – she admits the influence of many cultures upon her and appropriately, on the pitch she is able to play is any position. "I mostly enjoy playing in midfield as I cannot stand watching the team in trouble defensively or having fun in the attack without being a part of it," said Luik.