Daniel Richardson

Daniel Richardson is a Wellington-based sports journalist for NZME. News Service.

Soccer: Basalaj has edge to wear the gloves

Scott Basalaj, who went to this year's London Games on stand-by, has trained with the Phoenix since he was 15. Photo / Getty Images.
Scott Basalaj, who went to this year's London Games on stand-by, has trained with the Phoenix since he was 15. Photo / Getty Images.

Just who will play in goal for the Wellington Phoenix against the Melbourne Heart at AAMI Park on Sunday afternoon won't be decided until the side gets to Australia, although schoolboy Scott Basalaj has the inside running.

Goalkeeper is one of the positions the Phoenix have had to improvise in for this weekend's game, which falls in a Fifa window, but Football Federation Australia - who administer the A-League - have decided to still schedule a round of matches.

Six All Whites, including glovemen Mark Paston and Glen Moss, and Solomon Islands winger Benjamin Totori have been chosen for international duty, which has forced the Phoenix to call upon academy squad members and Auckland City keeper Jacob Spoonley.

Spoonley, who picked up one cap for the All Whites in 2008, was on the books for the Phoenix in their inaugural season but never saw playing time. He has turned out for various national age-group teams and was selected for the New Zealand under-23 side for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Basalaj, who went to this year's London Games on stand-by, has trained with the Phoenix since he was 15.

Now 18, the Lower Hutt resident could make his A-League debut on Sunday providing he can prove his fitness to goalkeeping coach Jonathan Gould.

The Year 13 student at St Patrick's College, Silverstream has been struggling of late with his stamina after losing 6kg during the past three weeks following his return from the club's pre-season trip to India due to a suspected bug.

"Even in training you do a couple of reps and his recovery has not been fantastic after six reps," Gould said of Basalaj. "And when you consider he's then got to do a pretty vigorous warm-up leading in to the game, it's how you recover. Mentally, it's his first game as well. If he's physically right then he'll probably play. If he's not then Jacob's a more than adequate back-up given his experience in the 23s in Beijing. At the Olympics he played in front of 60,000."

Whoever is chosen to play will find a makeshift back four in front of them, with the defensive line also hit hard by international commitments.

Skipper Andrew Durante will anchor the defence, with Michael Boxall set to partner him in the centre, while school of excellence player Luke Rowe will play on the left and Cameron Lindsay is set to make his long-awaited A-League debut at right back.

The midfield is more of a mystery.

Alex Smith and Manny Muscat could be joined by the returning Vince Lia in the centre with Paul Ifill and young gun Louis Fenton on the wings, while Stein Huysegems could be used as a lone striker.

Assistant coach Chris Greenacre, who will take the reins while head coach Ricki Herbert wears his All Whites hat this weekend, said Lia's return was a boost for the side and mentioned there were a couple of combinations they could run through the midfield.

Another option for Greenacre could be to use Lia from the bench and throw 17-year-old Tyler Boyd up front to partner Huysegems, while Panamanian loan player Ricardo Clarke could also figure.

Another school of excellence player, Tom Biss, has also been included in the 15-strong travelling squad.

Phoenix: Manny Muscat, Michael Boxall, Alex Smith, Paul Ifill, Stein Huysegems, Tyler Boyd, Cameron Lindsay, Louis Fenton, Vince Lia, Andrew Durante (captain), Ricardo Clarke, Luke Rowe, Scott Basalaj (GK), Tom Biss, Jacob Spoonley (GK)

- APNZ

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