Former All Whites goalkeeper Mark Paston was a hero of the All Whites’ qualifying campaign for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, famously saving a penalty against Bahrain as New Zealand qualified for the biggest event on the planet for just the second time.
We caught up with him to hear his memories of that magical day at Westpac Stadium in Wellington in 2009 and get his thoughts on the current All Whites’ chances against Peru.
How do you feel when the Intercontinental Playoff rolls around again every four years?
This time of year always brings back memories and there are always a lot of people asking about it. But it was eight years ago now and it’s sometimes quite hard to recall all the memories. But, looking back, it was a pretty special time for me and all those players involved.
What is your fondest memory of that amazing win over Bahrain?
Probably the final whistle. It was an intense 90 minutes and to get to the end and have the result we needed was a huge relief more than anything. And the celebrations afterwards from the crowd and everyone having a party on the pitch was something that’s stuck with me.
How did the atmosphere that day compare to other games in the rest of your career?
I think that was the best atmosphere I’ve ever played in, definitely in New Zealand by a country mile. I think all the ingredients were there to create the environment and it doesn’t come about very often, which is a shame because everyone who was there described it as the best sporting event they’ve ever been to. It’s a shame it’s only every four years and we can’t recreate that more often.
That 2009 team then went on to go through the 2010 FIFA World Cup undefeated, why do you think they were able to do so well?
I think we had a bunch of guys who were willing to go out and fight for each other, we definitely didn’t have the most talented team there, although we did have some good players such as Ryan Nelsen, Simon Elliott and a few other players who were playing at a high level. But it was definitely the fact we had a bunch of players who were out there looking after one another. You compare that to some of the other international teams where all their players are playing at the top, top level but they don’t get the results they need. It’s quite fascinating lookin at the make-up of the teams and how they actually perform. The talent and what club you play at is only part of the puzzle.
What advice would you give to the team looking to follow in your footsteps against Peru?
Firstly, they have to believe they can do it. I think they’ve got the team to do it and if you go through the squad they’ve got players playing at the top level in Europe and the MLS as well. You’ve also got a bunch of guys who look like they’re in form for their clubs as well. They’re going to have to be able to soak up a lot of pressure as well, especially in the away leg because no doubt Peru will have the ball for long periods of time. And they need to put their chances away, they’ll get chances over 180 minutes and it’s just a matter of putting those in the net. They may only need one goal to go through, which is what we did in 2009.