As a professional footballer, Tome Pacovski takes a simple approach based on three clear principles: enjoyment, positive thinking and constant improvement. FIFA.com caught up with the FYR Macedonia international goalkeeper ahead of his country's 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ qualifying double-header with Belgium – his adopted home and place of work for the past four years.
Pacovski first moved to Belgium to play for Beerschot AC in Antwerp, where he put in three years of loyal service before joining KV Mechelen, his current club. The commanding goalkeeper has settled well since that initial move, pleased to have found his niche in a league that "more people are watching, and that is very well organised." It has certainly been a more productive experience than his first spell abroad, in 2004, when he made just one appearance for Greek side Ionikos.
In Belgium's top division, the Jupiler Pro League, Pacovski has earned particular respect for his selfless attitude and willingness to put his body on the line. Indeed, in August 2010, in his second season with Beerschot, Pacovski suffered a fractured tibia and fibula that put him out of action for six months. Despite the pain, he said at the time: "I did my duty by making the save. For the good of the team, I'd willingly break my leg again."
Contrary to what that show of bravery might suggest, Pacovski is not one for the spotlight, and is far from the stereotypical eccentric goalkeeper of years gone by. On the pitch he prefers to keep a low profile, and believes there is no longer room for daydreamers between the sticks. "In modern football, the goalkeeper is an anchor who plays an important role in stabilising the team," he said. "You only need to look at the best goalkeepers around at the moment, like [Spain's] Iker Casillas and Belgium's Thibaut Courtois, who exude great calmness and a confidence that inspires their team-mates."
Macedonia face Belgium in back-to-back Brazil 2014 qualifiers on 22 and 26 March, and Pacovski is relishing the prospect of facing the country he now calls home. The keeper, who won the Macedonian league title with FK Rabotnicki earlier in his career, has already played against the likes of Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Cristiano Ronaldo, and is now poised to test himself against Marc Wilmots' much-heralded young Diables Rouges.
"I'm very pleased to have the chance to play against players as good as Eden Hazard and Marouane Fellaini," he said. "Belgium are the strongest team in the group and one of the best in Europe. I won't need to tell my team-mates anything about them, as everyone knows them already."
Belgium recorded an impressive 3-0 away victory over Serbia earlier in the campaign – a result that turned many heads, including that of Pacovski. "We cannot afford to play an attacking game against the Belgians, because if we do, we risk finding ourselves on the wrong end of a thrashing," said the goalkeeper, who started his career with hometown club Pelister Bitola. "We have no other choice but to defend if we're to get a result."
In terms of attacking options, Goran Pandev is perhaps the closest thing to a household name for the side currently sitting fourth in Group A of European qualifying. Ranked 73rd in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, Macedonia will need to draw on team spirit against Belgium, as they did in a stunning 3-0 friendly victory over Denmark on 6 February. The Macedonians have conceded just four goals in four qualifiers to date, which suggests that if there is one thing they can do well, it is play to their strengths.
Pacovski is up for the challenge and believes that, at the age of 30, his best years are still very much ahead of him. "Between 30 and 35 is often when goalkeepers really reach the top of their game," he said. "For me, the best is probably yet to come. All I can do is give my best and continue to improve every day."