AUCKLAND - New Zealand should follow Australia and leave Oceania for the Asian Football Confederation to give them more competitive matches and improve their standard of play, All Whites captain Ryan Nelsen has said.
"I think New Zealand should go the whole hog and apply to follow Australia into the Asian confederation," defender Nelsen said in an excerpt from his forthcoming book Ryan Nelsen's Road to the World Cup carried in The Press newspaper on Saturday.
"I thought that was a great move for Australia and, ultimately, for Oceania," added the World Cup-bound player.
Australia qualified for the 2006 World Cup finals in Germany after becoming Oceania champions and then defeating Uruguay in a play-off before joining the Asian confederation permanently.
New Zealand reached their second World Cup, and first in 28 years, after finishing as Oceania champions and then beating fifth-placed Asian side Bahrain in a two-legged play-off to make the month-long finals in South Africa starting on June 11.
"In the long run, it will be best for everyone but New Zealand would benefit most from full membership of Asia. Just think if we played South Korea or Japan in Auckland.
"I think there would be a fantastic crowd there and I bet we'd get a full house if we played Australia in Wellington."
They have been drawn in Group F with Paraguay, Slovakia and world champions Italy at this year's finals and Nelsen said the national team had improved in the past few years and would not disgrace themselves against the Asian sides.
"We've got a good team now and I think we'd be competitive against Asia's best sides on a regular basis.
"I would rather have 10 to 15 tough games in Asia even if it meant we didn't go to the World Cup if we weren't good enough.
"This way, we would get the games we need to challenge the top sides," added Nelson, who also captains Blackburn Rovers in the English Premier League.
The All Whites played just six Oceania qualifiers before beating Bahrain 1-0 on aggregate after Rory Fallon's header at a sold-out Westpac Stadium in Wellington last November.
"We've traditionally always been underprepared for World Cup campaigns," Nelsen said. "But it's a different story now.
We've got a very competitive team which can only get better with more international exposure.
"I believe we're good enough to go to the World Cup through playing in Asia."
Footballl is riding a wave of popularity in New Zealand with the World Cup qualification, the Wellington Phoenix making the A-League play-offs, and amateur side Auckland City making the quarter-finals of the FIFA Club World Cup last December.
Nelsen said a move to Asia would capitalise on that.
"If it's the Asian Cup or a World Cup qualifier and there's something riding on the result, I think it is proven now that the New Zealand sports public can come and watch.
"We could take the team around the country. Imagine a World Cup qualifier against someone like Saudi Arabia in Invercargill in June. It would be a major advantage.
"We've always had to go to the Middle East and play in the horrible heat and cloying humidity.
"It would be brilliant to bring Asian teams down here in the middle of a freezing New Zealand winter to play in front of a big, ferocious Kiwi crowd while our players lapped up the rain, hail, sleet and wind!"comments