Five Europe-based players, led by Shunsuke Nakamura, have been named in the Japan squad for the last three 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ qualifiers, the national coach said Thursday.
Nakamura, who has been linked with a return to his old club Yokohama Marinos after the season, has scored 23 goals in 84 games for Japan. Saint-Etienne's Daisuke Matsui, VfL Wolfsburg's Makoto Hasebe and Yoshito Okubo, and Venlo's Keisuke Honda will join the Celtic midfielder for the games against Uzbekistan, Qatar and Australia.
"I chose 26 players to play five games - two games in the Kirin Cup and three games in the World Cup qualifiers. With these players we will try to beat Uzbekistan, Qatar and Australia," said Japan coach Takeshi Okada.
In the final qualifying round Group A, Australia lead the table with four wins and a draw for 13 points, followed by Japan on 11 points and Bahrain on seven points. Uzbekistan and Qatar each have four points. The top two teams will qualify for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, while the third-placed team will have to survive playoffs. One more win for Japan will secure qualification.
It is natural to think we are just one step away from the World Cup, but I've seen so many times that the tables can turn.
Japan will play Chile in Osaka on May 27 and Belgium in Tokyo on 31 May for tuning up in the Kirin Cup before playing Uzbekistan away on 6 June, Qatar at home on 10 June and Australia away on 17 June. "It is natural to think we are just one step away from the World Cup, but I've seen so many times that the tables can turn. We haven't got anything yet," said Okada. "We are just determined to do our best to beat Uzbekistan in our next game and concentrate on it."
Okada added he was not certain when Hasebe and Okubo can join as they have an important game for their club on May 23, while Nakamura is expected to be back on 26 May. Matsui will join the team in Uzbekistan. "Honda has already returned home. He has scored 16 goals in some 30 games this season. We have only (Naohiro) Takahara and (Masashi) Nakayama who have scored so many goals. Hopefully he can score for Japan as well," said Okada.
Goalkeepers: Seigo Narazaki (Nagoya Grampus), Ryota Tsuzuki (Urawa Red Diamonds), Eiji Kawashima (Kawasaki Frontale)
Defenders: Yuji Nakazawa (Yokohama Marinos), Satoshi Yamaguchi (Gamba Osaka), Marcus Tulio Tanaka (Urawa), Yuichi Komano (Jubilo Iwata), Yasuyuki Konno (FC Tokyo), Yuto Nagatomo (FC Tokyo), Tomoaki Makino (Sanfrecce Hiroshima), Atsuto Uchida (Kashima Antlers)
Midfielders: Shunsuke Nakamura (Celtic/SCO), Hideo Hashimoto (Osaka), Yasuhito Endo (Osaka), Kengo Nakamura (Kawasaki Frontale), Daisuke Matsui (Saint-Etienne/FRA), Yuki Abe (Urawa), Makoto Hasebe (VfL Wolfsburg/GER), Keisuke Honda (Venlo/NED), Shinji Kagawa (Cerezo Osaka), Naoki Yamada (Urawa)
Forwards: Keiji Tamada (Nagoya Grampus), Yoshito Okubo (Wolfsburg/GER), Kisho Yano (Albirex Niigata), Shinji Okazaki (Shimizu S-Pulse), Shinzo Koroki (Kashima)