Japan today called up 20-year-old striker Genki Haraguchi for the first time and brought back midfielder Kengo Nakamura for next month's 2014 FIFA World Cup™ qualifiers against Korea DPR and Uzbekistan. Urawa Red Diamonds forward Haraguchi gets his chance of a debut after moving up from the Olympic team, following in the footsteps of Hiroshi Kiyotake, who made an impressive first appearance against Korea Republic two weeks ago.
Nakamura got his first call-up since October last year, with national coach Alberto Zaccheroni saying the Kawasaki Frontale midfielder deserved a place in the squad after making a return to form in the J-League.
"Haraguchi is good at both defence and offence, especially good at attacking from the left side to the centre. He has speed with skills. I think he is ready to play for the top national team," he said. "I've been watching the J-League games. Nakamura had been physically not fit for a while, but he came back. He is a real professional player, mentally and physically. He is worthy of playing for the national team," he said.
The 23-player squad included 12 Europe-based players led by CSKA Moscow's Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa of Borussia Dortmund. It also included Novara forward Takayuki Morimoto and Lierse goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima. But there was no space for Inter Milan full-back Yuto Nagatomo, who recently recovered from a dislocated right shoulder, Dijon forward Daisuke Matsui or Mallorca midfielder Akihiro Ienaga.
Japan, the Asian Cup holders, will play Korea DPR in Saitama, near Tokyo, on 2 September in the opener of the Asian qualifying round for the FIFA World Cup, which is to be held in Brazil. They later face Uzbekistan and Tajikistan - who replaced Syria after the Middle East side were this month banned from the tournament for fielding an ineligible player - in Group C. Two nations from the group will advance to the final Asian qualifying round.
"The biggest goal for Japan is to qualify for the World Cup finals. It's also my biggest goal. I know rival teams will fight hard against us as they are very motivated, because we are the Asian Cup holders," said Zaccheroni. But my players gained a lot of confidence in the past year. Players are more close and they are more speedy. We are under heavier pressure, but I hope my players enjoy it."
Goalkeepers: Eiji Kawashima (Lierse SK/BEL), Shusaku Nishikawa (Sanfrecce Hiroshima), Shuichi Gonda (FC Tokyo)
Defenders: Yuichi Komano (Jubilo Iwata), Yasuyuki Konno (FC Tokyo), Yuzo Kurihara (Yokohama Marinos), Masahiko Inoha (Hajduk Split/CRO), Tomoaki Makino (1FC Koln/GER), Atsuto Uchida (FC Schalke/GER), Maya Yoshida (VVV Venlo/NED)
Midfielders: Yasuhito Endo (Gamba Osaka), Kengo Nakamura (Kawasaki Frontale), Yuki Abe (Leicester City/ENG), Makoto Hasebe (Wolfsburg/GER), Hajime Hosogai (FC Augsburg/GER), Yosuke Kashiwagi (Urawa Red Diamonds)
Forwards: Tadanari Lee (Sanfrecce Hiroshima), Shinji Okazaki (VfB Stuttgart/GER), Keisuke Honda (CSKA Moscow/RUS), Takayuki Morimoto (Novara/ITA), Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund/GER), Hiroshi Kiyotake (Cerezo Osaka), Genki Haraguchi (Urawa Red Diamonds)