It’s been a short ride but come kick-off at 12.30pm on Sunday 29 April, Mario Ilich will be embarking on the biggest 90 minutes of football in his life so far.
The 22-year-old will take to the field for Team Wellington against his former club Auckland City FC in the second leg of the OFC Champions League semi-finals – a must win for both sides if they want to keep their dream of tickets to the FIFA Club World Cup alive.
“These are the games that everyone wants to be playing in,” the midfielder said.
“Probably the biggest game in my football career, so I’m definitely looking forward to it.
“These are the games where all the training, all the hours put in, are made worth it and it’s going to come down to a crucial moment or action in the game.”
It’s not just a matter of playing a career defining match that has Ilich ticking.
He’s also returning to a ground he honed his skills on with Auckland City FC and sister club Central United – Freyburg Park, or as it’s better known, Kiwitea Street.
“It’s definitely a different changing room for me to be in but it will be good to be back home and seeing a few familiar faces and stuff like that.
“I’m excited by it.
“Playing away from home it’s always tough, especially down at Kiwitea Street. It’s a great place to play but we’ll work the ball and try and take as much as we can.”
Auckland City’s record run of 1043 minutes in the OFC Champions League without conceding – 11 consecutive matches dating back to 15 March 2017.
But Ilich believes his Team Wellington side have the means to prevent that extending even further.
“I do think we have the ability to score against them,” he said.
“We created a lot of changes against them in the first leg and in the period leading up to that game so we’re certainly not shore of goals.
“They have a great defence there’s no doubt about it, but we’re confident we can get over the line and put the ball int he back of the net.
“We’re a little bit disappointed that we created quite a few clear cut chances last week but didn’t end up putting one away.”
Team Wellington will get their chance against Auckland City at Kiwitea Street in Sandringham, Auckland when they play the second leg of the OFC Champions League semi-finals on Sunday 29 April.