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Miyaichi makes cut for qualifiers

by Gus Fielding

Kyodo

Burgeoning Arsenal talent Ryo Miyaichi made the cut Thursday as Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni named a 25-man squad for three upcoming final-round World Cup qualifiers against Oman, Jordan and Australia.

The 19-year-old Miyaichi, one of three players to win their first caps in Wednesday’s 2-0 win over Azerbaijan in Shizuoka, got the nod but there was no place for the more experienced Jungo Fujimoto, who was unavailable for selection for Wednesday’s game due to club commitments with Nagoya Grampus.

“I tried not to pick players that have exactly the same strengths in this squad but I didn’t pick Miyaichi directly as a replacement for Fujimoto,” said Zaccheroni.

“Fujimoto is the type of player that makes assists but Miyaichi’s strengths are on the flanks and creating space going forward.”

Miyaichi, who has just returned to Arsenal following the completion of his loan spell at relegated Bolton Wanderers, was picked along with Kashiwa Reysol defender Hiroki Sakai and FC Tokyo midfielder Hideto Takahashi, who also both made their national team debuts as substitutes on Wednesday.

“Takahashi is doing well in the J. League at the moment and has good balance and technique,” said Zaccheroni. “He can cover wide areas of the pitch and has a physical presence. He is still young but is a player I like.”

Zaccheroni recalled Dutch-based striker Mike Havenaar and defender Maya Yoshida, as well as Gamba Osaka’s Yasuhito Endo and Yasuyuki Konno and Cerezo Osaka forward Hiroshi Kiyotake.

Like Fujimoto, Konno, Endo and Kiyotake were omitted for Wednesday’s match as Gamba have a J. League game against Sagan Tosu on Friday, when Grampus host Cerezo.

Yuhei Tokunaga and FC Tokyo teammate Ariajasuru Hasegawa and Urawa Reds striker Genki Haraguchi were overlooked.

The squad features a total of 12 European-based players including Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa.

Takayuki Morimoto hurt his lower back against Azerbaijan, but Zaccheroni said the injury was not serious and has kept the Novara striker, as he expects him to be fit by the time Japan opens its Group B campaign against Oman at Saitama Stadium on June 3.

Looking ahead to the qualifying campaign, Zaccheroni said he was not calculating how many points from a total of eight matches he would need to guide the Asian champions to Brazil, and was simply taking each game as it comes.

“You never know what is going to happen in soccer but from my experience I can say it is important not to calculate,” said the Italian. “In 30 years of being a coach I have learned the importance of focusing on the task in front of you.”

After the Oman game, Japan faces Jordan, also in Saitama, on June 8 and then travels to Brisbane for its third game on June 12 against Australia, which the Blue Samurai beat 1-0 in extra time in the 2011 Asian Cup final to win a record fourth continental title.

Japan was held 1-1 by Jordan in its Asian Cup opener, Yoshida coming to the rescue with a 94th-minute equalizer.

“I’m expecting all three games to be tough, but among them we are facing teams that we played at the Asian Cup, so to a certain extent we know what we are going to be up against,” said Zaccheroni.

Japan has also been drawn against Iraq in Group B.