Nik's got game

DEREK VAN DIEST -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 12:18 PM ET

Nikola Vignjevic has played in high-pressure matches before.

As a professional soccer player for 14 years, he came across his share of big games with high stakes.

But this was different. The Edmonton District Soccer Association Mini-World Cup usually is.

Vignjevic, 35, was playing in his first Mini-World Cup for Serbia.

A former Edmonton Driller, he was arguably the best player taking part in the annual event.

"I'm sure every other team would love to have a player like that," said Serbia's coach George Raskovic. "It's a dream for a coach to have a player like that.

"He's something special. All the other players on the team look up to him and listen to him."

Unfortunately for Serbia, Vignjevic was not enough to get past Portugal in the quarter-finals on Thursday, losing 4-2. Portugal did a good job containing Vignjevic and made the most of their chances on their way to a well-deserved win.

"I think today they got a little scared of all the pressure and all the people that came out to watch them," Raskovic said.

HIGH-CALIBRE PLAYERS

Regardless, just the fact a player of his calibre is taking part in the event says a lot about the tournament.

"There are some really good players here," Vignjevic said, following the game. "Most of them know how to play; they are just a little bit slower. But for this age, it's good soccer."

This year the tournament is strictly a 35-and-over event on both the men's and women's sides.

That hasn't dampened the enthusiasm of fans as they have come out in full force to support their different ethnic communities.

A total of 20 teams representing different countries is taking part in the men's event, while 11 are in the women's tournament.

The finals take place today at the Edmonton Indoor Soccer Centre East, with the women's championship game taking place at 3:15 p.m., followed by the men's final at 5:45 p.m.

"It's a lot of fun. We lost the game, but we had fun, which is the most important thing, especially now that I'm retired," Vignjevic said.

"We're a little bit disappointed because of the fans that came out to see us.

"I think they had bigger plans for us; they were hoping we were going to make it into the final."

Vignjevic is not the only former professional to play in the event. There are a few other players who have played professionally either in North America or their native countries.

Vignjevic began his professional career in the former Yugoslavia. He played there for seven years before coming over to play in North America.

RETIRED THREE YEARS AGO

"In the former Yugoslavia, Nikki was one of the three best indoor soccer players in the country," Raskovic said. "There were 22 million people in the country and he was one of the top players. He was so good he played on the national team for Yugoslavia.

"He stopped playing professionally three years ago, which is good for us. He decided to come have fun with us here. He liked Edmonton. And he liked to stay here with us and we are glad to have him."

Along with playing for Serbia's team at the Mini-World Cup, and in EDSA's premier men's division, Vignjevic is now coaching at the youth levels. He's become a central figure in the Serbian community, having decided to settle in Edmonton following his professional career.

"Everybody knows he's here," Raskovic said.

"That's why they all came out to watch him. It's nice to play soccer when you have a lot of people here watching."

With stints in Cleveland and Toronto, among other places in North America, Vignjevic had a choice of where to settle once his career came to an end.

Yet he chose Edmonton.

"I used to play here and I liked the city, so I decided to stay here," he said.

"I've been to so many cities, but this one is my favourite city."

And a talent like Vignjevic playing in Edmonton can only be good for the men's league.

"I'm having fun," Vignjevic said.


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