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Vicelich backs Lewis to shine for NZ

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 26/03/2017 Angelo Risso

All Whites legend Ivan Vicelich has backed Auckland City midfielder Clayton Lewis to make the step up to regular international football.

An 88-cap All White and 2010 World Cup stalwart, Vicelich now oversees Lewis as the Navy Blues' assistant coach under Catalan tactician Ramon Tribulietx.

The fleet-footed 20-year-old has made seven appearances for New Zealand since his 2015 debut, but was forced to skip last year's OFC Nations Cup triumph after receiving a one-month ban for excessive use of his asthma medication.

He has since returned to the international fold in matches against Mexico, USA and New Caledonia, as well as Saturday's World Cup qualifying defeat of Fiji.

Deployed in the centre of the park, Lewis played 78 minutes in Lautoka and almost scored with a cracking volley that was tipped over the bar.

Goals to Chris Wood and Marco Rojas eventually gave the side a 2-0 win, putting them in pole position to progress to the OFC play-off final.

Vicelich tipped Lewis and crocked teammate Te Atawhai Hudson-Wihongi, recovering from an ACL tear suffered in November, to stay in the Kiwi frame going forward.

"Both have progressed well over the past couple of years and especially last year," Vicelich said.

"They started off feeling their way around the club and game time, but coming towards the end of the season did really well.

"Clayton has been performing well and scoring goals."

Vicelich was also encouraged by what he saw further back.

Andrew Durante, Kip Colvey, Michael Boxall, the returning Tommy Smith and crocked skipper Winston Reid are all competing for spots in the side's defensive line.

Greek-born midfielder Themi Tzimopoulos can also play at the back, while Deklan Wynne is considered a hot prospect and played against Fiji.

Vicelich said that, whether boss Anthony Hudson plays three or four in defence, the side's strength in depth would serve them well for larger challenges ahead.

"It just comes down to the coach's preferences - I think the players are capable and have shown they're capable, and will be full of confidence," he said.

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