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Evergreen Aleksandar Duric still making the headlines at 53

After 10 years of retirement, Singapore football icon Aleksandar Duric is still grabbing the headlines with his goals.

The 53 year old, on March 31, received the rare honour of being named in GiveMeSport's list of Footballers With Most Hat-Tricks in the 21st Century alongside the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and is even ranked higher than a certain Neymar Jr.

When he was first alerted of the article, his first instinct was that it must be a prank.

The top 10 footballers with the most hat-tricks since 2000 including Aleksandar Duric, were featured in GiveMeSport. PHOTO: GiveMeSport's Facebook Page

Said the former Geylang United, Singapore Armed Forces FC and Tampines Rovers hitman: "I saw that the Facebook post appeared on March 31, so I was thinking to myself for sure this is an April Fool's joke."

But as it turned out, this was no laughing matter.

In an illustrious 15-year career in the S-League, in which he donned the jerseys of five clubs - Tanjong Pagar United, Home United, Geylang, SAFFC and Tampines - the 1.92m tall striker scored 385 goals - a record that still stands today.

And 66 of those goals, came via 22 hat-tricks.

Said Duric, who is now Principal of the ActiveSG Football Academy: "Once I saw the post going viral and that it was a legitimate article, I felt very proud.

"I'm an old man now, helping to groom the next generation of footballers. But it's still nice to be recognised for what I have accomplished."

But Duric was quick to pay tribute to the great teams and teammates that he played with throughout his S-League career.

"I was fortunate to play for some great teams and some really great players," he said.

"At Geylang there were players like Billy Bone, Brian Bothwell, Noor Ali, at SAFFC there were so many stars like Therdsak Chaiman, Park Tae-won and John Wilkinson and at Tampines there was Jamil Ali and Qui Li. Without these players and many others who created chances for me, I couldn't achieve what I did."

Aleksandar Duric's goals contributed to eight S-League titles and eight Singapore Cups win for his clubs, among them Tampines (above) and Geylang (below).

Of all the 22 hat-tricks he scored, he does not have one that is particularly special. In fact, he says the majority of his goals aren't spectacular.

He said: "I don't usually score those rockets from outside the box or a bicycle-kick goal. Instead, I made sure I practiced really hard to get my timing right, to be in the box and around the goal at the right place and the right time."

Duric said what sets him apart from others was how he enjoyed pressure and used it as a source of motivation. He relished the chance to go one better than other great S-League strikers like Egmar Goncalves and Mirko Grabovac.

"It was a great time in the S-League with some great players, "said Duric, who also played for the Singapore national team, scoring 26 goals in 54 appearances.

"But for some reason, I enjoyed the weight of wearing the No.9 jersey. As a striker, it's all about confidence. And whenever I went into a match, I had this mentality that the opponent may be able to score one, but I'll score two or three."

But Duric did go through his fair share of goal droughts and remembers his longest goalless streak stretching to five games.

He said: "People don't realise how much it can affect you. The fans will start talking, sometimes your teammates will also question you. And in turn, you will question yourself. But I always had the belief that goals will come for me. In training I would work even harder and get back to basics, practicing my finishing, working on my runs."

Scoring has become such a habit for him that Duric, who retired from competitive football in 2014, believes he will not ever lose the appetite for goals.

In the 3rd edition of the Battle Of The Reds, Duric scored two goals against Liverpool to end the first masters match of the night at the National Stadium with a draw 2-2 in 2019.

Even at 53, he regularly competes in Masters tournaments and continues to terrorise defences - even finding the net twice against Liverpool in 2019.

"It's an indescribable feeling to score and have your teammates and the crowd cheer for you," said Duric who will again rub shoulders with the likes of former English Premier League stars such as David James and Dwight Yorke in the StarHub Football Festival, which will take place on 20 and 21 April at Our Tampines Hub.

"I'm just fortunate to be able to experience so many great moments in my career. Football has given me everything, which is why I now hope to give back by helping groom the next generation of footballers. Hopefully I can impart some of my work ethic and experience to these young players.

"And who knows, one of them will just go on to break my records."

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