Japan takes the field with an entirely home-based team against Bahrain for its second 2010 World Cup qualifier on Wednesday, but manager Takeshi Okada is confident his side is strong enough to do the business.
Okada called up only one overseas-based player for the match in Manama — Eintracht Frankfurt’s Junichi Inamoto — but the midfielder was forced to withdraw with a thigh injury last week.
Celtic playmaker Shunsuke Nakamura was left off the squad, with his club in action against Gretna on Sunday and again this weekend at title rival Rangers.
Okada had hoped to add the midfielder to his squad had the match against Gretna failed to go ahead. Gretna is currently in administration, and a cloud had been hanging over whether the Borders club would be able to fulfill its fixtures for the rest of the season.
Last week, administrators ruled that the club could play on, and Nakamura turned out for 90 minutes as Celtic duly won 3-0.
Okada is nevertheless happy with the players he has at his disposal.
“I have chosen players who I expect will be OK regardless of the circumstance,” he told Japanese reporters at the team’s training camp in Dubai.
The manager is toying with the idea of a three-man defensive line, which could see Hiroki Mizumoto line up alongside Yuji Nakazawa and Yuki Abe.
“I haven’t decided on whether to play three or four at the back yet. Be sure to tell that to Bahrain,” he told reporters.
A three-man back line might ease the burden on defensive midfielder Keita Suzuki, who former Urawa Reds manager Holger Osieck recently admitted was exhausted after a long unbroken stretch of action.
Suzuki played at last year’s Asian Cup in Vietnam during the J. League summer break, then for Reds at the December’s Club World Cup before linking up with the national team for January’s friendly matches and February’s East Asian Championship in China.
Striker Keiji Tamada, on the other hand, will be raring to go after returning to the international fold after an absence of almost two years.
Tamada’s last game was against Brazil in the 2006 World Cup, a match in which he scored, and the Nagoya Grampus Eight frontman gives Okada a rare left-footed option in attack.
The manager may, however, opt to keep his strike force of Naohiro Takahara and Yoshito Okubo unchanged from February’s 4-1 opening World Cup-qualifying win over Thailand, or use Takahara as a lone striker.
“Their defenders are big and tough,” Takahara said, “but if you play intelligently you have a chance.”