Japan soccer coach Zico on Monday recalled Fiorentina midfielder Hidetoshi Nakata to a full-strength squad for the Asian champions’ upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Iran and Bahrain.
Shinji Ono, who celebrated his 100th Dutch League appearance for Feyenoord with a goal in a 4-1 win over Roda JC on Sunday, also returns, as does Cardiff City’s Junichi Inamoto, who was overlooked for Japan’s opening Group B game against North Korea last month.
Zico named a total of six European-based players in the 26-man party, including Shunsuke Nakamura and German-based striker Naohiro Takahara, for the Iran clash in Tehran on March 25 and the home game against Bahrain in Saitama five days later.
Nakata, who recently returned to Serie A action after a lengthy spell out through injury, looks set to make his first national team appearance since playing in the first round of World Cup qualifiers against Singapore almost 12 months ago.
“I have been told that Nakata has regained his fitness and I will make a decision (on whether he will play) once I’ve seen what kind of condition he is in,” said Zico.
“I want all of the players to be more focused than ever as we will be treating these two games like cup finals,” added the Brazilian.
Only Takahara and Nakamura were called up from Europe for the North Korea game as Zico opted to stick with a mainly domestic-based group, but the plan almost backfired as Japan scraped out a lucky 2-1 victory thanks to a last-gasp strike from Masashi Oguro.
Brazilian-born defender Alessandro Santos and Jubilo Iwata defender Makoto Tanaka will miss the Iran game through suspension and will join up with the squad on March 26 for the Bahrain game.
Kashima Antlers goalkeeper Hitoshi Sogahata was drafted in as first-choice ‘keeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi is injured.
Japan departs for Germany on Thursday, where it will prepare for the Iran match with a training camp in Frankfurt, before arriving in Tehran on March 22.
The JFA also said fans who missed out on tickets for the Bahrain match will be able to watch it on giant screens at Tokyo’s National Stadium.