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Cockahoop Canterbury United midfielder Aaron Clapham says his naming in the All Whites' training squad has "justified" his decision to stay in New Zealand and delay his return to his Melbourne club.
The 23-year-old was the only uncapped player named in a 15-man squad of Australasian-based players for a 12-day training camp in Auckland between April 28 and May 10.
Yesterday's announcement capped a memorable few days for Clapham, who played a pivotal role in Canterbury making the New Zealand Football Championship grand final after a 3-0 win over Auckland City on Sunday.
"I'm really happy, it's great news," he said. "It really does justify the decision [to delay his return to Melbourne club Dandenong Thunder]. This was the main reason behind me staying. It was definitely a tough decision at the time and it went back and forth for a good few weeks. But this has made it all worthwhile.
"But at the moment, I'm not looking past the final [against Waitakere United on April 24]. That's going to be a big day for Canterbury football. It's an exciting month for me."
Clapham, an American university graduate, is determined to make the most of his chance to stake a claim for the All Whites' World Cup squad and perhaps also press his claims for a contract with the Wellington Phoenix.
"All you can ask for is an opportunity. It's up to you to show what you can do."
Clapham, Team Wellington midfielder Cole Peverley, Brisbane Roar striker Costa Barbarouses, Newcastle Jets midfielder Jeremy Brockie and Melbourne Victory goalkeeper Glen Moss join 10 players from the 18-man All Whites squad which beat Bahrain in the World Cup playoffs last November.
All Whites coach Ricki Herbert said the coaching staff had been monitoring Clapham for some time and he had invited him earlier this year to train with the Wellington Phoenix.
"Assistant coach Brian Turner saw Aaron play again on the weekend and he's been able to make a difference as far as Canterbury making the finals is concerned," Herbert said.
"In the big game games against Auckland and Waitakere this season he's stepped up and performed. Now it's a good chance to bring him in with players like [Tim] Brown and [Leo] Bertos and see what his work is like at that level."
The training group will play a NZFC select XI at North Harbour Stadium on May 9 and Clapham hopes to be playing against some of his Canterbury team-mates. "I'd be very surprised if there weren't a number of Canterbury players involved in the NZFC team."
Clapham is a former New Zealand under-20 and under-23 international while Peverley and Barbarouses have one All Whites cap each after playing a World Cup qualifier against Fiji in 2008.
Brockie has returned after breaking a leg for his former A-League club North Queensland Fury in late January.
There was no place in the training squad for recent All Whites Aaron Scott (Waitakere) and Chad Coombes and Jason Hayne (Auckland City).
But Herbert said the selection door was not closed to other candidates. "There are others that we have seen in New Zealand colours on one or more occasions in the past few years and we know what they can do."
Training squad: Goalkeepers: James Bannatyne, Glen Moss, Mark Paston; Defenders: Tony Lochhead, Dave Mulligan, Ben Sigmund, Ivan Vicelich. Midfielders: Andy Barron, Leo Bertos, Jeremy Brockie, Tim Brown, Aaron Clapham, Cole Peverley. Forwards: Costa Barbarouses, Shane Smeltz.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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