Young Basalaj eyes third world cup

TIM BARTON
Last updated 08:57 14/11/2012
Scott Basalaj
ROSS GIBLIN/Fairfax NZ
Scott Basalaj in action for Team Wellington against Canterbury United last weekend.

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Scott Basalaj hopes to experience a third football World Cup next year.

Basalaj, who last week was named the College Sport Wellington Young Sportsman of the Year, first came to national prominence when starring in goal for the New Zealand side at the 2011 under-17 World Cup.

The St Pat's Silverstream year 13 pupil was also a member of the New Zealand team that contested the 2011 under-20 World Cup in Colombia.

He was a backup player in Colombia but hopes to play a more prominent role if New Zealand can qualify for the 2013 under-20 World Cup in Turkey.

The Oceania qualifying tournament will be held in February, with the winning side headed to Turkey.

"Anything can happen but I will be working hard towards making the squad and getting that No 1 position [as goalkeeper]," Basalaj said.

The College Sport award capped what Basalaj described as a crazy year. "It was a nice surprise and I was really excited to get it.

"It was a good way to finish school and topped off the year."

He is the first male footballer to win the premier award since current All White Daniel Keat, in 2005.

Basalaj's final school year encompassed plenty of travel and involvement with a variety of football teams, including the New Zealand Olympic team, the All Whites and the Wellington Phoenix.

He regards his Olympic experience as the highlight of the year. The 18-year-old was called away from school in July with the news that he was to leave for England that night as injury cover for the New Zealand squad.

"I watched from the stand on match days but otherwise trained with the squad and was with them before and after the games.

"Most of the players were All Whites and just being in that environment was special and we were experiencing the Olympics at the same time. It was pretty amazing."

It also stoked Basalaj's ambitions to be part of the Rio Olympics in 2016.

"That's a few years away and we would have to get through the qualifying for a start, but it's definitely a long-term goal."

Basalaj appeared on the bench this year for the All Whites - in a match against Jamaica in February - and for the Phoenix in an A-League match.

He is also a member of the Phoenix academy, though he is well aware that he cannot yet claim to be a professional football player.

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"I'm hoping to work my way towards getting a professional contract at the Phoenix but we know we are apprentices. You aren't a professional till you sign that pro contract."

Basalaj has thoroughly enjoyed the academy experience at the Phoenix.

"I don't think I could get anything better. It's going to be really good for my development and the professionals have been very welcoming and supportive.

"It's been everything we could ask for and more - I'm very happy."

Basalaj has also been in goal for Team Wellington in the opening rounds of the national league, after being on the bench the previous season. The other finalists for the Young Sportsman of the Year award were Jackson Garden-Bachop (Scots College) for rugby, Zac Millar (Paraparaumu College) for squash, Jerome Raemaki (Rongotai College) for softball, Matt Symonds (Wellington College) for hockey and Tom Vodanovich (St Pat's Town) for basketball.

Contact Tim Barton
Racing editor and college sport writer
Email: tim.barton@dompost.co.nz

- The Dominion Post

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