Striker Max Mata hopes a strong performance in the UEFA Europa Conference League might re-open the door for a return to Danny Hay’s All Whites squad.
The 22-year-old Aucklander has missed national selection since making his All Whites debut against Lithuania in November 2019.
But his League of Ireland club side Sligo Rovers are playing in the high-profile European competition, and with it comes the chance to shine.
He and fellow All Whites defender Nando Pijnaker will be in Rovers’ squad this Friday (July 22, NZT) when they travel to Scotland’s Fir Park to meet Motherwell in the first of two legs for the Europa Conference League’s second qualifying round.
A Mata goal helped Sligo get through the first qualifying round, in which they beat Welsh side Bala Town.
Now, Mata is drawing on previous European competition experience, with Nomme Kalju of Estonia, to remind him of what’s possible. In 2019, he visited Celtic Park for a Champions League qualifier, playing the second half before 41,000 fans.
In an interview with the Irish Independent’s Daniel McDonnell, Mata said:
“It was an awesome experience,
“I never played in front of that many people. At one point, I forgot I was on the pitch. I was looking up at the crowd seeing how high the stands actually went. But then I pulled myself back into it. It’s an experience I hope I get again soon.”
Living in Sligo, Mata is impressed by the excitement football creates among the community.
“Back home, people don’t live and breathe football. They might know you play or whatever but here, these people really care. It’s almost like, if there wasn’t football, then what would they do?
“That difference in passion, it brings people together and then when your club wins, like we did last Thursday night, well, you saw how electric the atmosphere was. Having that difference is special and unique, coming from New Zealand.”