Young guns with the world at their feet

Making your 50th, or 100th, or 200th appearance in a strong national sporting competition is a nice personal milestone to celebrate.

Making your 50th, or 100th, or 200th appearance in a strong national sporting competition is a nice personal milestone to celebrate.

If you-re competent enough to reach a half-century or century of matches, it-s a good time to be acknowledged by others, and to look back and reflect on your career so far.

A player expected to hit 50 Hyundai A-League appearances very soon (he made his 49th appearance last weekend against the Heart) is Newcastle-s Ben Kantarovski.

But what-s more special about this milestone is that Kantarovski is set to be the first ever teenager to reach the half-century of Hyundai A-League matches.

That-s quite a feat really. A teenager good enough to be continually selected to front up against opposition players who are on average ten years older should be a strong indication that this kid - if we can call such an experienced player a kid - is set to go places.

Not that 19-year-old Kantarovski hasn-t already been places. Aside from being in his fourth season on the A-League platform, this guy has already travelled the globe with Australian national teams, and has already played in two world cups - the 2009 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Egypt, and 2011 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Colombia.

If Australia-s old National Soccer League (NSL) is any indication, for a player to be so experienced on the national stage at such a young age is a good indicator that he will stick it out at the top level for a long time to come.

So let-s have a look at what happened to the five youngest players to reach 50 NSL appearances.

The honour of being the youngest player to play 50 NSL games is held by John Markovski, who was just 17 years 333 days old when he reached the half-century, while playing for Sunshine George Cross in 1988.

Markovski-s marathon NSL career went for 17 years, with a record nine clubs. He made 372 NSL appearances and scored 110 NSL goals. ‘Jonesy- also played at the 1992 Olympics, and ended up with 20 Qantas Socceroos appearances to his name.

The next youngest to reach 50 NSL appearances was Chris Kalantzis, who played with Sydney Olympic for five years in the 1980s before embarking on a long and fruitful stint at the top of Greece-s first division, with Panathinaikos (1987 to 1992) and fellow Greek giants Olympiakos (1992 to 1996).

Peter Raskopoulos, who made his 50th NSL appearance while at Marconi in 1980, played most of his 261-game NSL career at Sydney Olympic, and made 35 appearances for the Qantas Socceroos (1980-1989).

The next youngest to play 50 NSL matches was none other than current Sydney FC superstar and fringe Qantas Socceroo Nick Carle, who returned to Australia in 2010 following stints in Turkey and England.

The fifth youngest player with 50 NSL appearances was Jason Culina who, before being sadly struck down with knee problems recently, has achieved some huge honours, including FIFA World Cups in 2006 and 2010 and winning multiple Championship medals with Dutch clubs Ajax and PSV.

Like Kalantzis and Carle, Culina brought up his 50th NSL appearance with Sydney Olympic, a proud and successful club at least partly responsible for the successful footballing careers of many other Aussies.

And like the Jets- Kantarovski, there are plenty of youngsters currently strutting their stuff in the Hyundai A-League who already have a load of experience behind them.

Under-23 guys like Melbourne Heart-s Aziz Behich (20 years old) and Mate Dugandzic (22), Gold Coast-s Adama Traore (21), Adelaide-s Daniel Mullen (22), and Central Coast-s Olizer Bozanic (22) and Matt Ryan (19) are all players within 15 games of reaching a half-century of 50 Hyundai A-League appearances.

Look out for these guys, history says they are in for long and distinguished playing careers.