Naka gets behind coach Osim

by James Mulligan

Shunsuke Nakamura has sprung to the defense of Ivica Osim and his selection methods ahead of Japan’s first national team game of the year against Peru on Saturday evening.

Osim has opened himself up to criticism by calling on lesser-known youngsters ahead of more established players as he looks to build a team in preparation for the 2010 World Cup.

On Wednesday, the Japan coach added midfielders Akihiro Ienaga and Keisuke Honda, both 20, to the squad to face the South Americans along with 21-year-old JEF United Chiba midfielder Koki Mizuno, while Hiroki Mizumoto, also 21, was added late Friday after Urawa Reds defender Keisuke Tsuboi withdrew because of a thigh injury.

One of the old guard Osim has stayed loyal to is Nakamura and the 28-year-old Celtic playmaker, called up this week for the first time in Osim’s reign, said age doesn’t matter when it comes to playing for the national team.

“I have (only) played together with these guys once, so I don’t really know, but if the players are 21- or 22-years-old they are probably strong, and have what the coach is looking for,” said Nakamura after training in Yokohama late Thursday evening.

“I was like that, too. I was playing during the (Philippe) Troussier period . . . I think it is important to have a big number of young players. In fact, I think it is absolutely necessary.

“It’s important that even the young players are confident and feel that they have something to offer the team. Mizuno and Honda, are big guys . . . I think all of the players are good.”

Osim also defended his player selection, but was hesitant to say who he would call upon for the Peru game.

“There are some strong players in the younger generation, but who to use is a hard thing to decide,” Osim said.

“They (the younger players) are often criticized as being the inferior generation, but there are a lot of strong players and they are our future.”

Osim said he expected a lot from his more experienced players, including the two brought over from Europe — Nakamura and Eintracht Frankfurt striker Naohiro Takahara.

“Those two (Nakamura and Takahara) are smart players so they understand the significance of being brought in from far away,” said Osim. “The only thing that I want to know from them is if they are capable of playing well or not.”

Both Nakamura and Takahara have been in excellent form for their clubs this season, with Takahara scoring 10 goals in 22 games in the German League this season. The German-based forward knows what Osim and the Japan fans are expecting. “I have only been with Japan for a short time so it’s not easy to adjust so quickly. But I’m feeling positive and obviously want to produce results and help the team win,” said the 27-year-old Takahara.

“I know what the fans expect of me and I’m doing my best to be in top condition for the game.”

The Peru game is the first warm up game ahead of the Asian Cup finals in July, where Japan will be looking to win the competition for the third consecutive time.

Meanwhile, new Peru coach Julio Cesar Uribe’s squad has been seriously depleted in the past week because of injuries, visa problems and infighting.

It was reported PSV Eindhoven striker Jefferson Farfan has joined Hamburg striker Paolo Guerrero on the casualty list.

Ukraine-based striker Andres Mendoza was unable to travel because of visa problems, while Bayern Munich striker Claudio Pizarro was called up but refused to play because of a dispute with the Peruvian football federation.

Newcastle United’s Nolberto Solano is considering a return to international soccer after a prolonged break but was not selected by Uribe for the game against Japan.