Norwich defender Whitbread earns his American stripes

Norwich defender Zak Whitbread faces a transatlantic dash after this weekend's Championship trip to Hull for a potential date with Argentina's global superstar Lionel Messi.

The 27-year-old American's form at the heart of the Canaries' backline has earned him a first senior call up into the USA squad for friendlies against Argentina and Paraguay.

Whitbread is one of three uncapped foreign-based players in Bob Bradley's squad for the games against the Pumas on March 26 in New Jersey and Paraguay in Tennessee.

The Texan-born, Liverpool-raised defender will link up with the 24-man squad in North Carolina next week as US coach Bradley looks to step up his preparations for this summer's Gold Cup tournament.

'This is an important opportunity to get our core group together along with some relatively newer faces as we consider the roster decisions for the Gold Cup this summer,' said Bradley.

'We have not had these players together for quite some time, so this is a great chance to get in a solid week of training and then face two quality opponents in Argentina and Paraguay.'

Whitbread is joined in the squad by fellow UK-based players Tim Howard, Marcus Hanehmann, Jonathan Spector, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Stuart Holden, Maurice Edu and Jermaine Jones. The City defender has now made 14 senior appearances since overcoming the injury problems which blighted his first season after arriving from Millwall.

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Whitbread admitted earlier this season a full international call up was a long-term ambition after featuring for the US at younger levels.

'The first priority was to get back (healthy) and to get back playing and doing well for Norwich,' he said. 'I've always said anything beyond that would be a massive bonus.

'It's still something that's high up there on the list of ambitions, which I would like to achieve. I've played in the U20s and U23s, so it's something I've really wanted to do. As I said, all I can do is keep performing as well as I can for Norwich and hopefully the national team is aware of me and hopefully I'll get a chance sooner or later of proving what I can have to offer.'

Messi is the major name in Argentina's squad but Man City striker Carlos Tevez and Atletico Madrid forward Sergio Aguero have been omitted from Sergio Batista's pool. Messi's City team mate Pablo Zabeleta is in the touring party along with former Liverpool midfielder Javier Mascherano.

Whitbread's Norwich team-mate Andrew Crofts will hope to retain his place in Gary Speed's Welsh squad which is announced for the upcoming Euro2012 home qualifier against England at the Millennium Stadium on March 26.

The all-action midfielder played the full 90 minutes of Speed's first game in charge last month in a 3-0 Carling Nations Cup defeat to the Republic of Ireland. Simeon Jackson could also be involved on international duty with Canada scheduled to face Belarus in Turkey on March 29 while Arsenal loanee Henri Lansbury links up with England's U21s for friendlies against Denmark and Iceland.

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