Soccer: All Whites' double vision

By Michael Brown

The All Whites could play a double header against Japan and China in March as they begin their build up to the next World Cup in Brazil.

New Zealand Football have been in talks with Japan for some time about playing a game there at the end of March - and they are now hopeful of adding a second game against China. The March 26-30 period is a Fifa double window.

NZF previously thought playing two away games in a double window was too difficult because of the demands on players spread across the globe. But China's proximity to Japan makes it more appealing on top of the obvious financial gains.

Japan and China would be ideal opponents for the All Whites. Although Oceania's path to the next World Cup hasn't been confirmed, it's expected to remain the same as last time with the Oceania winners meeting the fifth-placed Asian country in a home-and-away play-off.

All Whites coach Ricki Herbert has indicated to NZF he would like to play as many Asian countries as possible to prepare his side should they win the Oceania group as expected.

Japan are ranked 30 in the world and made it to the last 16 in South Africa before being ousted by Paraguay on penalties. They have appeared at the last four World Cups and are the second-ranked Asian nation behind Australia.

Talks with NZF stalled as they focused on their failed bid to host the 2022 World Cup but a decision is expected soon.

China are ranked 30 places below New Zealand at 89 but the Chinese government have committed considerable resources to football recently after a period of underachievement and political turmoil. They have been to one World Cup, in 2002.

New Zealand have played 11 internationals against China since the first in 1975 with the most famous being the 2-1 playoff victory in Singapore when the All Whites qualified for the 1982 World Cup.

NZF have a good relationship with China and outgoing NZF chief executive Michael Glading said talks were progressing well.

"It's looking positive," he said. "That one looks more positive than Japan. We are in contact with both of those countries, definitely, but until it's signed off it's not locked in.

"We have regular contact with China and would be keen to get them down here at some stage. Every time we look at widows, we have been in discussions with them.

"We would probably stick to one game per window but if we can get two games in close proximity, we will do it. Ricki is keen to get games against Asian teams and this would be perfect because it is effectively the start of a new campaign."

NZF are looking to play between four and seven friendly matches annually and have approached match agents about finding a game in June, which is also a double window.

World Cup qualification, which also doubled as qualifiers for the Confederations Cup, is likely to begin in October and November.

- Herald on Sunday

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