- At fault against Brazil, Paulsen held Canada at bay on Friday
- New Zealand keeper hoping his side can make the last 16
- Kiwis have a chance of advancing as one of best third-placed sides
Alex Paulsen will not look back with much fondness on New Zealand’s second match at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Brazil 2019™. The 17-year-old keeper was at fault for Brazil’s second goal, scored by Talles Magno, on a night when the Kiwis went down to a 3-0 defeat. Yet, as he has learned, when the games come thick and fast there is always an opportunity for redemption around the corner.
Paulsen’s came on Friday evening, when he starred in his side’s 1-0 win over Canada in Brasilia, making a string of superb saves, including a vital stop from Jacen Russell-Rowe in a one-on-one situation. In claiming the three points in their final match in Group A, New Zealand kept their hopes of qualifying for the last 16 alive and will now wait for the weekend’s results to come in.
Speaking afterwards, the young keeper said he never doubted his ability to bounce back at Brazil 2019.
“You have to keep your head up and keep on going,” he told FIFA.com. “You have to look at what happened and identify where and how you made the mistake, to see how you can improve in that respect. When you commit an error you have to do that and keep moving forward.”
Following a win and two defeats, New Zealand placed third in Group A on three points, giving themselves a chance of reaching the last 16 by finishing among the four best third-placed teams. Paulsen knows what he will be doing over the weekend, when four matches will decide their fate.
“Obviously I’ll be watching all the games on TV this weekend,” he said, hopeful his side will make it through. “We need to go step by step into the next game, with heads held high and full of confidence.”
Looking up to a legend
Born to a South African father and a Namibian mother in a nation where rugby is king, Paulsen chose the round ball over the oval one when he started school.
“It’s tough because we’re known as a rugby country,” he said. “But I fell in love with football when I was very young. I had a feeling I could make saves. I love the game and I got better and better at it. I started out playing futsal, which is similar to football and I just took it from there.”
On his journey to playing in goal for his country, Paulsen chose a slightly surprisingly role model for someone of his generation. Rather than Manuel Neuer, Gianluigi Buffon or Jan Oblak, Paulsen’s opted for a hero who was plying his trade in the 1990s, before he was even born.
“My idol is the Danish great Peter Schmeichel,” he revealed. “He was my favourite player. He’s an inspiration to me and I hope to be like him one day.”
Just to make sure, FIFA.com asked Paulsen if he meant to say Kasper Schmeichel, the current Denmark goalkeeper, instead. “I still like the father but the son’s a great ‘keeper too,” came the reply.