Herbert wants ACL opportunity

Wellington Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert believes his side should be treated like any other in the Hyundai A-League and be eligible for a spot in the AFC Champions League.

Wellington Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert believes his side should be treated like any other in the Hyundai A-League and be eligible for a spot in the Asian Champions League.

The Hyundai A-League minor premiers and grand final winners are given a ticket to the group stage of the ACL, while the team that finishes second after the regular season is granted a qualifying playoff to the tournament.

But the Phoenix, who currently sit second behind Central Coast, are not eligible for the ACL under Asian Football Confederation rules because as a New Zealand team they fall under the Oceania Football Confederation.

They are also ineligible for the Oceania Club Championship because they play in an Australian competition, which comes under the AFC umbrella.

It is a situation that has annoyed new co-owner Gareth Morgan who turned to social networking site Twitter to voice his frustration.

“Top 2 teams in the A League go to Asian Club Champs ‘cept the Nix,” he wrote. “Nor can we play in Oceania CC – it sucks!”

Herbert acknowledged it is a difficult issue but argued the Phoenix should not be treated differently to their A-League rivals.

“Well all the players are registered in Australia so it kind of makes sense a fair and equal opportunity for all clubs would be there,” Herbert said.

“I guess that’s on the table now and maybe there are one or two people who need to discuss it in a little bit more depth.”

Another complication is that the Phoenix’s New Zealand players would be classed as foreigners under ACL rules – which is not the case in the Hyundai A-League.

“I guess you can’t have your cake and eat it,” Herbert said.

“But at the end of the day it’s a competition that we’re all playing in and if the rewards at the end of it are an Asian Championship (place) and we’re good enough to be there I kind of think we should be accepted.”

But a Football Federation Australia spokesman confirmed the AFC’s stance.

“The AFC have made a ruling that New Zealand teams, and Wellington in particular, are not part of the AFC Champions League and they are just not eligible even if they win the competition or the Hyundai A-League Grand Final.”

He did not expect that position would change in the foreseeable future. “Not for this season and I don’t see it for next season either,” the spokesman added.

“They review their processes for allowing teams in but while Wellington are considered a New Zealand team, even though they are playing in our competition, they are not eligible to play in the AFC’s confederation and their Champions League tournament.”

The issue first surfaced in the 2009/10 season when Wellington reached the preliminary final where they lost to Sydney FC.

It has resurfaced now because Wellington’s run of form means they are a real chance to finish in the top two which would mean a more direct route opens to the Grand Final.

They sit seven points behind leaders Central Coast and one point clear of third-placed Brisbane Roar who they play in Wellington on Sunday.

“Obviously if we can get the three it would be great,” said Herbert.

“There are still 21 points to go. I still think it will be pretty tight leading into the last couple of games of the year.”

“But we’re at home and the ball is in our court. We are a point ahead of them so hopefully we can maintain that.”

The two encounters so far this season have produced a 1-1 draw at Suncorp Stadium and a 2-1 win to the Phoenix in Dunedin.

“I’ve got huge respect for what they have done. The benchmark that they set last year was incredibly good,” said Herbert.

“No doubt they will be chasing back-to-back titles again this year. But we are playing well.”

“They’ve had little ups and downs this year but they look like they are back on track. I thought we did well against them in Dunedin and we’ll have to play well again on Sunday to get something.”