Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni has turned to uncapped Sanfrecce Hiroshima striker Tadanari Lee to deputize for the injured Takayuki Morimoto at next month’s Asian Cup in Qatar.
Zaccheroni on Friday named his 23 for the Jan. 7-29 continental championship, which will be the Italian’s first competitive test as Japan manager.
Zaccheroni’s side featured eight Europe-based players, including this year’s World Cup heroes such as Keisuke Honda, captain Makoto Hasebe and goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima.
Shinji Kagawa, who has taken the Bundesliga by storm for leaders Borussia Dortmund and has already been linked with Spanish giants Real Madrid, was also in.
Zaccheroni left out the Serie A-based Morimoto, who, unbeknownst to the coach and the Japan Football Association, had had arthroscopic left-knee surgery following Sunday’s match against Brescia.
“Morimoto’s surgery was as much of a surprise to me and the JFA as it was for you people,” the former AC Milan boss said. “We probably found out at about the same time you people did.”
Lee, who turned 25 on Sunday, is coming off his best season in six years in the J. League, scoring a career-high 11 goals for seventh-place Sanfrecce.
While Lee, who is of South Korean descent, played for Japan’s under-23 team at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, he had never been called up to the full national side.
“Lee won his place through his performances in the J. League,” Zaccheroni said. “He absolutely deserves this opportunity.”
Lee is one of four players who do not have a single cap, alongside Kashima Antlers central defender Masahiko Inoha, Albirex Niigata fullback Gotoku Sakai and Shimizu S-Pulse workhorse Takuya Honda.
Nine others have no more than seven international appearances for the three-time Asian champions.
Zaccheroni said the timing of the Asian Cup — held during the middle of the European season and the already brief offseason of the J. League — made it difficult to pick the more tried and trusted players.
He was also forced to leave out Marcus Tulio Tanaka of J. League champions Nagoya Grampus and Yokohama F Marinos’ Yuji Nakazawa, who are sidelined by injuries.
“This tournament is being held at an unusual time on the calendar,” the Serie A-winning manager said. “The World Cup players have not rested, and some have gone through a brutal schedule this year. Some familiar faces haven’t been selected, but I already know what they can do. I know I can count on them.
“I’ve picked several young players for this Asian Cup. We will spend a lot of time together and hopefully during that time, they will come to understand my philosophy.
“The Asian Cup is important without question, but at the same time, it will not be the end of the national team as we know it.
“Our goal is the next World Cup, which is another reason I chose young players.”
A look ahead to 2011
Japan will play Montenegro and New Zealand in its first home games of 2011 in March, the Japan Football Association announced on Friday.
Japan will take on Montenegro, which is No. 25 in the FIFA world rankings, at Shizuoka Ecopa Stadium on March 25 and New Zealand four days later at Tokyo’s National Stadium.
Montenegro is currently top of a qualifying group featuring England and Switzerland for Euro 2012. New Zealand was one of the sentimental favorites at the World Cup this summer, producing three draws in the group phase in its first appearance in 28 years.