Soccer: Modest Paston praises defence

By Simon Kay in Nelspruit

For All Whites fans, today's 90 minutes against Italy might have seemed some of the longest of their lives.

Not Mark Paston.

The 1-1 draw with the defending World Cup champions at Nelspruit's Mbombela Stadium went by in a blur for the goalkeeper.

"The game seemed to last 10 minutes," says Paston. "I hope to have a chance in the next couple of days to sit down and have a look at it. But it was good fun. I really enjoyed myself out there."

The 33-year-old kept New Zealand in the match with outstanding second-half saves to keep out long-range shots from Riccardo Montolivo and Mauro Camoranesi. Paston was nonchalant about his heroics.

"It's nice to come up with a timely save. Defensively, we were pretty sound, keeping shots down to a minimum and making them cross the ball. I quite like my crosses."

The only shot which beat Paston was Alberto Gilardino's first-half penalty after a dive by Daniele De Rossi.

Immediately after the game, Paston couldn't comment on whether the penalty should have been awarded, saying he only saw De Rossi falling and referee Carlos Batres pointing to the spot.

The Italians will believe they should have won with ease, taking 23 shots to New Zealand's three and winning 15 corners to New Zealand's none.

But the All Whites were well organised, resolute and hard-working. Paston was full of praise for his teammates.

"The guys were incredible. In the last five minutes, there were guys going down with cramp everywhere, which showed how hard we work as a team together.

"It's not just the back three but the guys who started the game and the guys who came on. The thing about this team is we work so hard for each other. That's where our strengths are."

A little luck was required. Paston could only stand and watch as a first-half Montolivo shot hit the inside of his right post, rebounded behind him and went out over the left-hand sideline.

"I didn't actually see the guy hit it. I knew he was going to shoot. I saw it a little bit late and, to be honest, I wasn't going to catch up with it."

After the game, Prime Minister John Key paid the All Whites a visit.

"He came in and congratulated the boys. It's great to see the Prime Minister round the team. A year ago, that wouldn't have happened."

The All Whites have four days to regroup and front up for Friday's final pool game against Paraguay.

"It's nice to still be eligible to qualify for the second round. No one ever believed that was going to be the case.

"Paraguay are another world-class team and it's going to be another massive test for us. But especially after that result, no one's going to be taking us lightly."

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