Usami returns for Oman qualifier

by Gus Fielding

Kyodo

Uncapped Hoffenheim striker Takashi Usami earned his first callup in over a year, while Manchester United star Shinji Kagawa was the most notable absentee as Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni on Monday named his squad for the upcoming World Cup qualifier against Oman.

Usami, who has not been involved with the national team since his first callups for friendlies against Peru and the Czech Republic in June 2011, was one of 13 European-based players named to the 23-man squad that faces Oman away on Nov. 14.

“I want young players (like Usami) to show me how much they have improved,” said Zaccheroni. “Usami is playing lots of games now but that is not the case with players like (Ryo) Miyaichi and (Yuki) Otsu. Even (Genki) Haraguchi, I think, has not played as much as he did last season.

“I want these players to realize that they have high quality and that’s why I have called them up in the past. If you don’t play for your clubs then you can’t improve and the managers of their clubs probably share the same opinion as me.”

CSKA midfielder Keisuke Honda and Inter Milan defender Yuto Nagatomo were picked, while Stuttgart’s Shinji Okazaki is back in the squad after missing the recent friendlies against France and Brazil with a toe injury.

Kagawa scored the winner as Japan stunned former world champions France 1-0 in a warmup for the qualifier in Paris last month.

But the 23-year-old attacking midfielder misses out and is not expected to return to action for a month after suffering a left knee injury in the first half of United’s 3-2 win over Braga in the Champions League on Oct. 23.

“Kagawa and Honda have constantly featured in the squad since I took over but they haven’t always been available,” said Zaccheroni. “Kagawa for example was injured after the Asian Cup (in January last year) and didn’t play until the South Korea game the following August. Honda did not feature in the third round of qualifiers.

“But don’t forget that the players that have come in to deputize for them have done a great job. Kagawa is not here this time, but I’m sure that whoever fills in for him will do well.”

Japan, a 3-0 winner over Oman in Saitama in June in its opening game of the final-round campaign for Brazil 2014, is currently five points clear of Australia and Oman with four rounds played and will be on the brink of qualification with a win in Muscat.

The game will be played in the afternoon in searing heat and Zaccheroni may not have some of his Euro stars training with the squad until the day before the match.

“Oman are one of the more organized and balanced teams in the group,” said Zaccheroni. “The only game they have lost so far was in Saitama. They sat back and defended in that game but they will come at us this time. We have to be very focused.

“Last time I had a lot of time to prepare for the home matches against Oman and Jordan and my main concern this time is a lack of preparation time with the whole squad. On the plus side, though, the jet lag won’t be as bad for the players coming from Europe as it would be if they were coming back to Japan.”

Japan departs for Qatar on Thursday and will hold a mini training camp in Doha before flying into Muscat two days prior to the Group B clash.