Japan will be without the driving force of CSKA Moscow midfielder Keisuke Honda and Inter Milan defender Yuto Nagatomo for the crucial upcoming World Cup qualifier away to Jordan, Japan Football Association technical director Hiromi Hara said Thursday.
Fitness issues have robbed Italian coach Alberto Zaccheroni of two of his most important players and forced him to leave them out of the 23-man squad he named alongside Hara for the March 26 Group B clash in Amman.
Nagatomo is recovering from a knee injury he sustained in late February in a 1-1 draw with Inter Milan. CSKA has said Honda has been “unwell” and is focusing on a “rehabilitation program,” reportedly to treat injuries to his knee and ankle.
Hara, though, said he was not at liberty to give details on the exact nature of Honda’s ailment.
“We can’t speak about injuries to players unless they are actually on duty with the national team. The doctors and trainers have been in contact but we can’t speak about Honda’s condition until his club have made official comment on it,” Hara told a news conference.
“We have heard he is getting better but he is not making the bench or playing in games so we have had to leave him out. Nagatomo is training more and improving but he has been out for a while and is not match fit.”
Zaccheroni admitted not having Honda and Nagatomo available was a blow but was confident whoever stepped in for the pair would fulfill their roles.
“You all know how highly I rate (Honda and Nagatomo) but it’s not the first time we have been without them and the players that have replaced them in the past have done well,” he said.
Honda and Nagatomo were the only major absentees to a squad that includes Manchester United attacker Shinji Kagawa, who only recently returned to the national team fold for the Latvia friendly last month following a spell on the sidelines with a left knee injury.
Kagawa has often spoken of his frustration at being moved out wide for the national team, but Zaccheroni refused to be drawn on whether Kagawa or Kawasaki Frontale’s Kengo Nakamura would take Honda’s regular central position.
“They (Kagawa and Nakamura) are different types. Kengo is an out-and-out midfielder that can keep balance in the middle, while Kagawa plays in a more advanced role. I will see how things are at our training camp in Qatar before making a decision.”
Japan, which thrashed Jordan 6-0 at home behind a Honda hat trick in June, are the runaway leaders in Group B and a win for the Asian champion will see it become the first team to secure its place for Brazil 2014.
A draw would also be enough to earn the Blue Samurai one of the two automatic berths from the group if Australia’s match with Oman also finishes all square.
“We have three World Cup qualifiers left and want to qualify as quickly as possible. We know we are carrying the hopes of a nation and to respond to those expectations we have to make sure we are in top condition,” said Zaccheroni.
Shinji Okazaki scored twice against Lativa and was among 13 European-based players in the squad that will warm up for Jordan with a friendly against Canada in Doha on March 22.
Yuki Otsu of Dutch club VVV Venlo retains his place after making his debut as a substitute against Latvia.
Japan leaves on Sunday for Qatar for a training camp and the Canada match and arrives in Jordan on March 24.
Goalkeepers - Eiji Kawashima (Standard Liege), Shusaku Nishikawa (Sanfrecce Hiroshima), Shuichi Gonda (FC Tokyo)
Defenders - Yuichi Komano (Jubilo Iwata), Yasuyuki Konno (Gamba Osaka), Yuzo Kurihara (Yokohama F Marinos), Masahiko Inoha (Jubilo Iwata), Atsuto Uchida (Schalke), Maya Yoshida (Southampton), Hiroki Sakai (Hannover), Gotoku Sakai (Stuttgart)
Midfielders - Yasuhito Endo (Gamba Osaka), Kengo Nakamura (Kawasaki Frontale), Makoto Hasebe (Wolfsburg), Hajime Hosogai (Bayer Leverkusen), Hideto Takahashi (FC Tokyo)
Forwards — Ryoichi Maeda (Jubilo Iwata), Shinji Okazaki (Stuttgart), Mike Havenaar (Vitesse Arnhem), Takashi Inui (Eintracht Frankfurt), Shinji Kagawa (Manchester United), Hiroshi Kiyotake (Nuremberg), Yuki Otsu (VVV Venlo).
Shimizu injures knee
Injury-hit J.League champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima suffered another casualty as midfielder Kohei Shimizu was ruled out for eight weeks with ligament damage in his right knee.
Sanfrecce received the bad news a night after losing 2-1 away to Beijing Guoan in the Asian Champions League. Shimizu started the game, the team’s second straight defeat in the ACL, but came off in the 68th minute with the injury.
Hiroshima is already without last season’s J.League MVP and top scorer Hisato Sato, playmaker Yojiro Takahagi and the Morisaki twins in midfield, Koji and Kazuyuki.
Hajime Moriyasu’s side hosts Kashima Antlers in the J.League on Saturday.