Mark Paston has been somewhat of a quiet achiever in New Zealand football. Though always reliable between the posts, injuries and club commitments, plus a persistent challenge for the goalkeeping jersey from Glen Moss, has seen the affable Paston enjoy only irregular spells in the All Whites spotlight. Indeed his 13 years with the national team have accrued just 26 caps to date.
The last 12 months have seen that all change with Paston saving a second-half penalty against Bahrain last November to ensure qualification for the FIFA World Cup™, ending a 28-year drought for the All Whites. Then came South Africa 2010 where the Kiwis achieved the unthinkable by becoming the only team to remain undefeated. Again Paston was far more than just a bit-part player, with the 33-year-old proving to be adept amongst the world’s elite with New Zealand conceding just two goals in three matches, one of which was from the penalty spot.
Sandwiched between this was further uncharted territory as Paston’s Wellington Phoenix, New Zealand’s only professional club, reached the finals of the Australian A-League for the first time, playing to record home crowds in the process.
FIFA.com spoke with the Kiwi custodian recently about his experiences at South Africa 2010, the current season with the Phoenix and his own playing future.
FIFA.com: Wellington Phoenix have struggled to reach last year’s highs so far this season. How is the team progressing at the moment?
Mark Paston: We are grinding our way out of it. Hopefully we are heading in the right direction but we still have some ground to make up.
Do you feel having several players at South Africa 2010 impacted on the team's pre-season and therefore on your performances this season?
It’s hard to say. You can analyse it as much as you want and maybe by the end of the season some of the New Zealand players will be pretty tired. We are not looking for excuses - I’m not sure if it’s impacted on others but not me personally, no.
Most people now know who the All Whites and the Phoenix are and that wasn’t always the case even quite recently. The amount of kids that are just in love with the game is incredible too so I’m sure that will bear fruit in the future.
Did you dare to dream that New Zealand could go to South Africa 2010 and do so well and that you could remain undefeated?
I always thought we could get a result but not in all three games. I never thought we could do that and you have to say it is pretty amazing. In a lot of respects I haven’t had time to reflect on it and it almost seems like years ago. It’s hard to believe that we played in it just a few months ago. The team worked hard to qualify for the World Cup and we finally did it which was pretty amazing in itself. Then we went to South Africa and achieved three fantastic results which was something else.
Is there any one highlight from your South Africa 2010 experience that sticks out for you as particularly memorable?
I would say the last 20 minutes against Italy when the boys dug really deep and we got a famous result for New Zealand football. So that would have to be my favourite part of the tournament.
How does it feel to have played a key role in what was something special in New Zealand sport?
As I said I haven’t had too much opportunity to reflect on it so maybe in a year or two it will hit me. I almost feel like I was never there!
How do you see the continued growth of New Zealand football developing?
Hopefully the people in the right places make the right decisions and we continue to move in the right direction.
Can you feel a different appreciation and level of interest for football in New Zealand compared to even a year ago?
Definitely. Most people now know who the All Whites and the Phoenix are and that wasn’t always the case even quite recently. The amount of kids that are just in love with the game is incredible too so I’m sure that will bear fruit in the future.
And finally Mark have you allowed yourself to start thinking what it would be like to play at Brazil 2014?
I will have to see how the body holds up. I’m just taking a year at a time at my age [laughs].