Basalaj skips school and heads off to Olympics

SAM WORTHINGTON
Last updated 05:00 20/07/2012
Scott Basalaj
MAARTEN HOLL/Fairfax NZ

LONDON'S CALLING: Scott Basalaj will join New Zealand's Oly-Whites as injury cover for Jake Gleeson.

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Scott Basalaj had a pretty good excuse for wagging school yesterday.

The 18-year-old was about to file into class at St Pat's Silverstream when his cellphone rang..

Turns out he's required in London for the Olympics and, with a flight to catch last night, there was no time to break the news to the principal.

"No, I just left straight away, I thought they'd get the message sooner or later so I don't think I'll be in any trouble," said the Team Wellington goalkeeper, who will join New Zealand's Oly-Whites as injury cover for another Wellingtonian, Jake Gleeson.

"So I caught the next train home and then organised it from there. To get the call-up is pretty crazy. After today I probably need a good sleep so hopefully I can nod off on the plane."

Portland Timbers goalie Gleeson is nursing a groin injury picked up in Saturday's 2-1 loss to South Korea and backup Michael O'Keeffe was set to start in this morning's final warmup against the UAE in Austria.

Basalaj has not yet replaced Gleeson in the 18-man squad as the clock ticks down to their Olympic opener against Belarus on July 27.

"I think I'll be there for the duration whether Jake is fit or not, but it will be an awesome experience either way," Basalaj said.

"Jake's the priority and I'll just get over there and do anything I can to help them out."

Football at the Olympics has an under-23 restriction with three over-age players allowed.

Basalaj, who starred at last year's under-17 World Cup in Mexico, is one of four standby players along with Cameron Lindsay (Phoenix) and Team Wellington team-mates Luke Rowe and Michael Eagar. "I knew that because of my age, I wasn't really expecting to make it, so it was good to be a part of all the stuff beforehand and the planning and everything," Basalaj said.

"So it wasn't much of a surprise when I wasn't named in the initial team but being on standby, it was always in the back of my head."

Basalaj's callup leaves a hole in goal for Lower Hutt City ahead of this weekend's Chatham Cup semifinals. “I'm disappointed to miss this weekend's quarterfinal.

"The boys have been doing so well and I'm sure they'll be given an extra rev up without me and hopefully they can get into the semis.”

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