Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni today announced his squad for next month's Asian Cup, with CSKA Moscow midfielder Keisuke Honda chosen to lead the Blue Samurai in Qatar.
Honda scored two goals in the FIFA World Cup™ in South Africa in June as Japan reached the knockout stage in their best FIFA World Cup performance on foreign soil before losing to Paraguay on penalties in the last 16. Honda is one of the eight Europe-based players Japan's squad, with Lierse SK goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima, defenders Yuto Nagatomo of Cesena, Atsuto Uchida of Schalke, and Maya Yoshida of VVV Venlo joining him.
Midfielders were Daisuke Matsui of FK Tom Tomsk, Makoto Hasebe of Wolfsburg, Shinji Kagawa of Borussia Dortmund, who was named as the most valuable player in the German league's first half. The team also includes Hajime Hosogai, who has signed a contract with German side Bayer Leverkusen.
"The Japanese team has been improving in 2010 with the excellent result in the World Cup and the men's and women's gold medals in the Asian Games," said Zaccheroni, the former coach of AC Milan. "We should keep the momentum. But our ultimate goal is the 2014 World Cup. The history of Japanese football does not end at the Asian Cup. I want to help the young players improve a lot through the tournament."
Zaccheroni said he had picked players who had potential and were capable of integrating themselves with the team. But he left out Japan's key defenders, Brazilian-born Marcus Tulio Tanaka, who has helped Nagoya Grampus win their first J-League title in the just ended season, and Yuji Nakazawa, because of knee injuries.
The Japan Football Association has set their goal at the Asian Cup on finishing in the best three, which will qualify them for the next tournament. Japan will play Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria in the preliminary Group B competition, starting on 7 January. The three-time Asian Cup champions are hoping to regain the title they lost in 2007.
Japan will play friendlies against Montenegro and New Zealand in March to prepare for the FIFA World Cup qualifiers, the Japan FA also announced. They will play Montenegro on 25 March in Shizuoka, followed by the New Zealand game four days later at the national stadium in Tokyo.
"Former Yugoslavia have produced a lot of young and talented players. Montenegro are very tough opponents," said Zaccheroni. "New Zealand are different. They play with their physical strength. But I know them through the World Cup. We will play the teams of two different types. I think it will improve Japan further, looking forward to the World Cup qualifiers."
Japan's Asian Cup squad:
Goalkeepers: Eiji Kawashima (Lierse SK/BEL), Shusaku Nishikawa (Sanfrecce Hiroshima), Shuichi Gonda (FC Tokyo)
Defenders: Daiki Iwamasa (Kashima Antlers), Yasuyuki Konno (FC Tokyo), Masahiko Inoha (Kashima Antlers), Yuto Nagatomo (Cesena/ITA), Tomoaki Makino (Sanfrecce Hiroshima), Atsuto Uchida (Schalke/GER), Maya Yoshida (VVV Venlo/NED), Gotoku Sakai (Albirex Niigata)
Midfielders: Yasuhito Endo (Gamba Osaka), Daisuke Matsui (FK Tom Tomsk/RUS), Makoto Hasebe (Wolfsburg/GER), Jungo Fujimoto (Shimizu S-Pulse), Takuya Honda (Shimizu S-Pulse), Hajime Hosogai (Urawa Red Diamonds), Keisuke Honda (CSKA Moscow/RUS), Yosuke Kashiwagi (Urawa Red Diamonds), Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund/GER)
Forwards: Ryoichi Maeda (Jubilo Iwata), Tadanari Lee (Sanfrecce Hiroshima), Shinji Okazaki (Shimizu S-Pulse)