NZ coach: Advantages to joining Asia

WELLINGTON - Following Australia into the Asian football confederation could have enormous development benefits for New Zealand and may be considered in the future but not at present, All Whites coach Ricki Herbert has said. New Zealand have qualified for next month's Confederations Cup in South Africa as Oceania champions before crucial World Cup qualifiers later this year. They will meet the fifth-ranked Asian side home and away in October and November to determine whether they will return to South Africa next year for the World Cup finals. Australia qualified for the 2006 World Cup finals in Germany from Oceania then moved to the Asian confederation, where they lead Group One and are almost certain of going to South Africa. "From a development, competition, exposure, sponsorship and finance point of view going through Asia would stand you in good stead," Herbert told Reuters in an interview before the All Whites left for a training camp in Botswana. "If you're a side good enough to get through the Asian route then I think you would be a side capable in a World Cup of doing something." Herbert, however, said the strength of remaining in the 11-team Oceania confederation was the route it provided for global tournaments, particularly for age-grade sides. "It's ideal for what we have got at the moment," he said. "In most cases it guarantees an ... entrance to the World Cup (for age-grade tournaments). "At the moment it's great being part of this and we will keep maximising the opportunities we can. "But in the longer term, the exposure and how good we need to be with the opponents on the world stage (in Asia), then the question is out there." When Australia qualified for the 2006 finals through Oceania, they had to meet fifth-ranked South American side Uruguay in a home and away playoff. That playoff route has changed to go through Asia, but Herbert said the strength of the Asian confederation was also improving, and qualification would not necessarily be easier. "You have probably got Japan, Australia, South Korea heading (Asia) but sides directly behind them are very strong. We went and played Thailand and they're a good side," Herbert added of their recent 3-1 loss in Bangkok. "(Asia) is strong and getting stronger and ... at some stage (that pathway) could be arguably as tough."