Defender puts World Cup defeat behind him as he eyes Europa Conference debut

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All Whites defender Nando Pijnaker is looking to his debut in European competition to put his FIFA World Cup disappointment behind him.

Pijnaker plays for League of Ireland club Sligo Rovers who are preparing for a two-legged qualifying round tie in the Europa Conference League.

They will play Welsh club Bala Town away (July 8) and at home (July 15). If they beat Bala, they’ll play Scottish club Motherwell in the next round.

“I’ve never played in Europe before, so those will be interesting,” the 23-year-old told the Irish Sun.

Pijnaker will line up beside another All White, one-cap striker Max Mata, who also joined Sligo this year.

Mata (21) played his club football in New Zealand for Onehunga Sports, Eastern Suburbs and the Wellington Phoenix reserves, and made his only All Whites appearance in 2019.

Pijnaker played for Ngongotaha, Western Suburbs and Eastern Suburbs in New Zealand before heading overseas in 2019 and building a professional career that has led to nine full international appearances.

He is philosophical about New Zealand’s World Cup exit, in which they lost their intercontinental play-off 1-0 to Costa Rica.

“It was one of those games.

“They had maybe three chances and took one, we had 12 or 13 and didn’t take any.

“That’s football sometimes. It is what is and we should have managed to score and win the game anyway.

“I think that’s the most disappointing thing, the way we lost the game.”

Mata scores for Sligo

Mata scored Sligo Rovers’ first goal in their 3-1 win against Sherbourne in their last game before their European fixtures. Here’s how it happened …

Pijnaker’s career

Pijnaker featured in the New Zealand U-23 side that reached the quarter-finals of the Tokyo Olympics tournament last year.

Dutch-born Pijnaker emigrated with his family to Rotorua and made his senior debut, at 15, for Bay of Plenty side Ngongotaha after playing for the local Western Heights High School.

He moved to Wellington to join Olé Football Academy and coach Declan Edge, turning out for Western Suburbs in the Central League.

In 2018, he joined Auckland club Eastern Suburbs and was part of its ISPS Handa Premiership side that qualified for the OFC Champions League.

Since then, he’s played for Swedish club Torslanda IK, Swiss outfit Grasshopper and then moved to Portugese side Rio Ave in August 2020. Last year, he was loaned to Danish side FC Helsingør.

Photo: Courtesy of Sligo Rovers

Kiwis in Ireland

New Zealanders to have played for League of Ireland clubs include:

Jason Batty – Bohemians
Che Bunce – Drogheda United
Sean Byrne – St Patrick’s Athletic, Dundalk
Henry Cameron – Limerick
Billy de Graaf – Shelbourne
Raf de Gregorio – Bohemians
Ryan De Vries – Sligo Rovers
Dean Dodds – Bohemians
Kevin Fallon – Sligo Rovers
Lee Jones – Drogheda United
Max Mata – Sligo Rovers
Heremaia Ngata – Bohemians
Nando Pijnaker – Sligo Rovers
Adam Thomas – Shelbourne
Gavin Wilkinson – Kilkenny City
Darren Young – Limerick, Waterford United, Athlone Town, Mervue United

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