Clapham keen to soak up World Cup pressure

AUCKLAND, May 10 (Reuters) - Aaron Clapham told his parents he loved them, clicked off his mobile phone and then took a small step backwards, eyes wide with surprise and head twisting from television camera to radio microphone to digital recorder.

The 23-year-old flame haired attacking midfielder had just become the most sought-after media interview in New Zealand after he was the bolter in Ricki Herbert's final 23-man squad for the World Cup.

"It's a little bit more than I'm used to," a smiling Clapham told the 15 reporters crowded around him in central Auckland on Monday. "Though, I've learned from the older guys that you can't take yourself too seriously with the media."

The uncapped Clapham was the standout of the amateur domestic football league this season for Canterbury United and had impressed in a 10-day training camp for Australasian-based players that ended in Auckland on Sunday.

However, when the All Whites qualified for the World Cup last November with a victory over Bahrain, being with the team in South Africa was the furthest thing from Clapham's mind.

"It's funny because I was at a mate's place having a few quiet drinks just watching the game, cheering them on," Clapham said. "If you asked me in November what would happen come World Cup time I would told you I'd be watching it on TV."

Clapham said he had not slept on Sunday before he was told he had made the squad on Monday and due to the secrecy around the naming, "did a quiet little fist pump".

"I got to bed at about one o'clock and anyone who knows me knows I don't get up till midday (but) I got up at 5.30 because I couldn't sleep and so many things were going through my mind.

"It's the ultimate dream for any footballer to play at the World Cup but growing up in New Zealand, you're never really sure if you will get there.

"But I worked hard ... to be in the camp with the team and then with the squad is unbelievable."

Herbert said he expected Clapham would play wide on the right if selected in South Africa, where New Zealand meet Italy, Paraguay and Slovakia in Group F.

The midfielder said he was eager to prove himself worthy of a starting place.

"No-one is going to South Africa to make up the numbers in the squad. They're all looking to force themselves into contention.

"There is a squad of 23 and only 11 are on the field at any one time. I'm going to work hard to try to make it."