Asian Cup champions Iraq will be carrying the hopes of a region when the Fifa Confederations Cup kicks off in South Africa today. But there'll be another team that almost as many Asian eyeballs will be fixed on. New Zealand, the land of the haka, hangis and Hillary (as in Sir Edmund) has temporarily become a football nation of interest with a looming play-off against Asian opposition for a place at next year's World Cup. As Oceania champions, New Zealand will travel to face the fifth-placed Asian team on October 10 before hosting the return leg on November 14. The winners will grab a spot at South Africa 2010. What makes the play-off more intriguing is the uncertainty of which Asian side will get the chance to keep alive their World Cup hopes. With Japan, Australia and South Korea already through, four nations are still in the running. The best two after the completion of the final round of Asian qualifying next week will first have to duel over two legs in September before the victors tackle New Zealand. That means that footballers and fans from North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Uzbekistan all have good reason to watch when the New Zealanders face European champions Spain in Rustenburg tonight, after the opening match between hosts South Africa and Iraq in Johannesburg. New Zealand's soccer players are called the All Whites and for good reason. Compared to the household names and international heroes of their rugby cousins, the All Blacks, it's like night and day. The All Whites have appeared in just one World Cup - Spain '82 - where they lost all three group games, scoring two goals while conceding 12. As they go into their third Confederations Cup, they've failed to pick up even a point in their previous six matches in Mexico (1999) and France (2003). But New Zealand showed they wouldn't be overawed by the occasion when they stretched world champions Italy in a warm-up game in Pretoria on Wednesday. They led three times - including 3-2 with just over 20 minutes to go - before losing 4-3 against an under-strength Italian side. Even so, the All Whites can't shake their 'underdogs' tag. Their captain, Ryan Nelson, is missing after tearing a calf muscle playing for Blackburn Rovers against Chelsea in the English Premier League last month. Many of their squad, including Germany-born striker Shane Smeltz, are playing out of season, with the Australian A-League in the middle of a six-month break. Fellow front-man Chris Killen - who scored two goals against Italy - has been warming the bench for much of the past two years for Scotland's Celtic. But coach Ricki Herbert, who appeared in the 1982 World Cup as a 21-year-old defender, dares to dream, ahead of the two important matches later in the year. 'It's a huge stepping stone for us, given the quality of opposition that we'll be up against at the Confederations Cup,' said Herbert, who also coaches A-League side Wellington Phoenix. 'We want to maximise every second because we may not get together again until October. Not being close to many other countries we don't get too many top-quality games every year.' As a player, Herbert was part of some famous victories over trans-Tasman rivals Australia, who have lost to the All Whites more times than they care to remember. But with the Socceroos moving from Oceania to Asia in 2006, the two neighbours now rarely meet at senior level on the football field. There's also talk that New Zealand may one day try to follow the Aussies into the AFC, an idea that Herbert believes should be opened up for debate. Australia's move to Asia hasn't been welcomed by everyone. Kuwait boss Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah was quoted earlier this year as saying the Socceroos could be kicked out as quickly as they came in if there was a change of AFC leadership. Although the region has 4 1/2 World Cup spots compared to just two at USA '94, some Asian countries aren't exactly overjoyed with Australia - who've now qualified for two World Cups in a row - taking one of their precious places. While they don't have the firepower of top-ranked Australia (29th compared to Japan's 31st), New Zealand, at number 82, are above the likes of North Korea, Qatar and China and would be far from pushovers if they joined Asian qualification. But assembling players for international matches remains a challenge for the All Whites, who draw on North America as well as Europe and Australasia. Four squad members earn their living in Major League Soccer, after going through the US college system. Even absent skipper Nelson arrived at Blackburn via Greensboro College, Stanford University, and MLS club DC United. Opening their Confederations Cup campaign against Spain will be a 'pinnacle' for the game in New Zealand ahead of their World Cup play-off, according to Herbert. 'The Spanish stars play in the best competitions and are watched by many people in New Zealand on television,' Herbert said. 'Now they get to see their own national team play against them. It's fantastic for the game in New Zealand.'