NIIGATA – Manchester United star Shinji Kagawa has admitted his frustration at being frozen out of his preferred central midfield role for Japan, but hopes he can reproduce his early club form for the Blue Samurai when they take on the United Arab Emirates on Thursday in a warmup for next week’s World Cup qualifier against Zico’s Iraq.
Kagawa has been getting rave reviews at United after his preseason move from German champions Borussia Dortmund and has just been named fans’ player of the month for August after a pair of strong performances in the hole behind the striker at the Premier League giants.
The 23-year-old has made three consecutive starts from the season-opening 1-0 defeat away to Everton and opened his account in a 3-2 win on his home debut against Fulham, although he was less effective in Sunday’s 3-2 win at Southampton.
However, Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni looks likely to stick with CSKA Moscow dangerman Keisuke Honda, outstanding in Japan’s first three final-round qualifiers with four goals and two assists, in the central role against the UAE and Iraq, with Kagawa on the left.
“Obviously I always want to play in the hole but no matter what I say (to the coach) the situation isn’t going to change,” Kagawa said after Wednesday’s training session at Niigata Big Swan Stadium.
“That’s the way it goes and basically I just have to deliver results in whichever position I am played in.”
Kagawa was his own biggest critic after an error he made led to Venezuela’s equalizer midway through the second half of a 1-1 draw in a friendly last month in Sapporo and was hopeful of making amends against the UAE.
“The final round of World Cup qualifiers has come back around and I have to pull my socks up. I didn’t play to well in last month’s game and this is an important match,” he said.
Zaccheroni said of Kagawa, “When the club is doing well, he is playing well and I hope he plays well also for the national team.”
With Atsuto Uchida, Yasuyuki Konno and Yuzo Kurihara all suspended, Zaccheroni will be fielding an experimental defensive lineup.
He is also sweating on the fitness of Yuto Nagatomo, who trained separately from the team on Wednesday with a sore right ankle, but the Italian tactician says he won’t be taking any unnecessary risks with the Inter Milan left back.
“I have to see if he is fit tomorrow. I don’t want to risk anything. If he is 100 percent okay, I will let him play. But if not, I won’t.”
Looking ahead to the match against the UAE, which failed to qualify for the final round of Asian qualifiers for Brazil 2014, Zaccheroni said, “I want the players to be focused. They seriously have to pick up the rhythm ahead of the Iraq game.”
Japan is currently five points clear of Iraq, Australia and Jordan in Group B, having beaten Oman 3-0 and Jordan 6-0 before drawing 1-1 away with the Socceroos. Japan meets former coach Zico’s Iraq at Saitama Stadium on Sept. 11.