Nishino opts for experienced Japan World Cup squad
TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan head coach Akira Nishino named an experienced final 23-man squad for the 2018 World Cup in Russia on Thursday.
Coming off the back of a disappointing 2-0 loss to Ghana on Wednesday, Nishino’s sole game in charge so far since taking over in April, the former international midfielder decided to stick with a travelling party filled with established players.
The squad includes three players with more than 100 caps — Yuto Nagatomo, Shinji Okazaki and captain Matoko Hasebe — and only two outfield players with fewer than 10 international appearances.
Eleven of the selected players featured at the last World Cup in Brazil.
The players cut from the original 27-man squad were forward Takuma Asano and midfielders Yosuke Ideguchi and Kento Misao, while another midfielder, Toshihiro Aoyama, had already pulled out of the squad through injury.
Ideguchi was the only one of the omitted players to take part in the loss to Ghana.
“The experienced players have been doing very well recently. So the idea is to have a mix of experienced players and the young players,” Nishino said at a news conference in Tokyo, without specifying why the trio had been omitted.
Ideguchi and Asano’s non-selection means that the players who secured Japan’s World Cup berth with goals against Australia will not feature in Russia, as well as former coach Vahid Halilhodzic, who led them through Asian qualifying.
Playmakers Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda have also been included, with the former proving his fitness over 45 minutes against Ghana following a troublesome ankle injury.
Prior to that, Kagawa had only played 15 minutes of football for Borussia Dortmund since February.
Leicester City’s Okazaki will be relied on for goals, having scored 50 for his country in 112 appearances.
The other two forwards chosen, Werder Bremen’s Yuya Osako and Yoshinori Muto of Mainz, have only scored nine international goals between them.
Turning his attention to the finals, Nishino said he was aim was to make the second round for the third time in Japan’s history.
“If we can achieve that result then that means we have correctly expressed Japanese soccer,” the 63-year-old said.
First up in Russia will be Colombia, who Japan face on June 19 in Saransk.
“Now, I want to focus on defeating Colombia. That would be a small miracle,” added Nishino, who cast a glum figure throughout the news conference.
As well as Colombia, Samurai Blue will face Senegal and Poland in a tough-to-call Group H.
Nishino will get two more chances to run his eye over the squad before Russia when Japan face Switzerland and Paraguay in their final warm-up matches early next month.
Goalkeepers: Eiji Kawashima (Metz), Masaaki Higashiguchi (Gamba Osaka), Kosuke Nakamura (Kashiwa Reysol).
Defenders: Yuto Nagatomo (Galatasaray), Tomoaki Makino (Urawa Reds), Wataru Endo (Urawa Reds), Maya Yoshida (Southampton), Hiroki Sakai (Marseille), Gotoku Sakai (Hamburg), Gen Shoji (Kashima Antlers), Naomichi Ueda (Kashima Antlers).
Midfielders: Makoto Hasebe (Eintracht Frankfurt), Keisuke Honda (Pachuca), Takashi Inui (Eibar), Shinji Kagawa (Dortmund), Hotaru Yamaguchi (Cerezo Osaka), Genki Haraguchi (Fortuna Dusseldorf), Takashi Usami (Fortuna Dusseldorf), Gaku Shibasaki (Getafe), Ryota Oshima (Kawasaki Frontale).
Forwards: Shinji Okazaki (Leicester), Yuya Osako (Werder Bremen), Yoshinori Muto (Mainz).
(Reporting by Jack Tarrant; Editing by John O’Brien)