I can be a role model says Ipswich Town centre-back Tommy Smith

TOMMY Smith has spoken of his “immense pride” and the need to act as a role model after leading New Zealand into the semi-finals of the Oceania Nations Cup.

The Ipswich defender has helped the All Whites to two wins and a draw – scoring one goal – to book their place in tomorrow’s semi-final.

As well as a chance to claim a trophy, the tournament doubles up as the first stage of qualifying for the Brazil World Cup in two years time while the winners go forward to next year’s Confederations Cup, also in Brazil.

Despite being only 22, Smith, who signed a new contract at Town at the end of last season, could also add the London Olympics to his growing – and impressive – football CV.

Smith, who will make his 14th international appearance in tomorrow’s last-four clash New Caledonia, told the New Zealand Herald: “Growing up you dream of being the captain of your national team. I was no different. When Ricki (Herbert – All Whites coach) told me it was the proudest moment of my career by far.

“I thought I might be (captaincy material) one day but not this early in my career. Centre-backs often get that role because they can see a lot and be quite influential. I believed I had that role in me.

“I try to be professional around the place, a role model. I try not to be too much of a shouter and screamer.”

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Smith admitted it was an easy decision to choose New Zealand over England, where he was born, especially after making his World Cup debut at 20 years old.

He said: “It wasn’t a hard choice because most of my footballing education was in New Zealand by all the New Zealand coaches. I always had an affinity to New Zealand, even though I was born in England.

“I would never have experienced what I have done if I hadn’t made that decision. I have never looked back. I am really proud of what I have achieved so far and what the team has as a whole. The World Cup was fantastic and now we need to build on that.”

Smith was chosen as captain in the absence of former Blackburn and Tottenham defender Ryan Nelson and of the Town centre-back, Herbert said:

“There’s a real maturity to him, even at a young age. He’s a really balanced boy and very professional in everything he does. He’s a good, strong leader. He could have a huge tenure in the role.”