Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni welcomed back Shinji Kagawa on Thursday, when he named the Manchester United attacker to his 23-man squad for next week’s World Cup qualifying warmup against Latvia in Kobe, the Blue Samurai’s first game of 2013.
CSKA Moscow’s Keisuke Honda was also picked for Wednesday’s match at Home’s Stadium, one of two friendlies the Asian champions have lined up ahead of their World Cup qualifier away to Jordan on March 26.
“I have picked players from Europe that are in the thick of the season and have left out some J. League players like Kengo Nakamura and Yuichi Komano, but that doesn’t mean they are dropped,” Zaccheroni said.
Japan, which also plays Canada in Doha on March 22, can qualify for its fifth World Cup finals in succession with victory in Amman over Jordan in Group B.
“This is a massive year for us and first of all we want to achieve our main goal of booking our World Cup tickets on March 26,” said Zaccheroni. “We’ve got two test matches to prepare and hopefully we can use them to good effect.”
Kagawa missed Japan’s last World Cup qualifier, a 2-1 win away to Oman in November, after suffering a left knee injury in United’s 3-2 win over Braga in the Champions League on Oct. 23.
He created United’s equalizer in a 2-1 win over Southampton on Wednesday but has not been at his best for the Red Devils since returning from injury.
“I could say this about all of the players but the fact is it takes time to adapt,” Zaccheroni said of Kagawa, reminding reporters it took French great and current UEFA president Michel Platini several months to fit in when he played in Italy’s Serie A at Juventus.
“It’s not easy for a player to fit smoothly into the group at a team like Manchester United. Platini, to use one example, said it took him seven months to acclimatize in Italy. In the recent games that I watched Kagawa in the Premier League, I get the impression he is really starting to fit in.
“Once the Latvia game is over I will go to Europe to watch league and Champions League games and I will have a good look at him in person.”
Dutch-based striker Yuki Otsu, who played a pivotal role in Japan’s run to the semifinals of the London Olympics with three goals, was given his first senior national team callup.
“I wanted to call him up before but at that time he was not playing for his team,” Zaccheroni said of Otsu, who had a frustrating spell at Borussia Monchengladbach, making just three goalless league appearances before moving to VVV Venlo last September.
“At the moment he is getting games under his belt and is showing his character on the pitch.”
Japan has only met Latvia on one previous occasion, a 2-2 draw in Riga in a friendly in Oct. 2005.