With national team manager Alberto Zaccheroni set to name his World Cup squad on May 12, Soccer Scene takes a look at the candidates. Names in bold are those predicted to make the final 23-man roster:
Zaccheroni should have little trouble choosing his three goalkeepers, with Eiji Kawashima the established No. 1 and Shusaku Nishikawa his deputy. Shuichi Gonda should edge out Masaaki Higashiguchi for the third spot.
Defense will give the manager much more of a headache, with injuries to half his regular back four complicating the issue. Maya Yoshida and Atsuto Uchida should have recovered in time for the finals even if they will not have had much playing time, but their importance to the team is likely to override fitness concerns in Zaccheroni’s mind.
Yuto Nagatomo and Yasuyuki Konno are automatic selections, while deputy fullbacks Hiroki Sakai and Gotoku Sakai should also make the cut despite Sanfrecce Hiroshima’s Tsukasa Shiotani making a compelling case for himself with his club this season.
Masato Morishige has emerged as one of Japan’s most in-form defenders since making his debut at the East Asian Cup last summer and may even make the starting lineup, while rumors persist that a dramatic recall for either one of veteran pair Yuji Nakazawa or Marcus Tulio Tanaka may be in the offing.
Such a seemingly fanciful notion cannot be completely dismissed given Japan’s recent defensive woes and lack of height, but Zaccheroni seems far more likely to call on Masahiko Inoha, leaving Hiroki Mizumoto, Tomoaki Makino and Yuzo Kurihara out in the cold.
Makoto Hasebe would normally be one of the first names on the list, but an injury that required surgery leaves the captain sweating on his participation. It would still be a major surprise if Hasebe is not on the plane, however, and he is likely to join Yasuhito Endo, Hotaru Yamaguchi and Hajime Hosogai in the midfield engine room with Toshihiro Aoyama and Gaku Shibasaki unlucky to miss out.
Further forward, Keisuke Honda, Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki‘s inclusion needs no explanation, while Hiroshi Kiyotake should also get the nod despite strong competition from Takumi Minamino, who has made a name for himself at Cerezo Osaka but may have to wait another four years for his chance.
Masato Kudo, Genki Haraguchi and Yojiro Takahagi have all done well at club level, but Zaccheroni looks likely to round off his attacking midfield selection with Yokohama F. Marinos livewire Manabu Saito, who could make an impact coming off the bench.
In attack, Yuya Osako has impressed since moving to Germany, while Yoichiro Kakitani should also make the squad despite enduring a torrid time in front of goal this season. Albirex Niigata’s Kengo Kawamata is a clinical finisher but untested at international level, while Yoshito Okubo would be a popular choice having caught fire since joining Kawasaki Frontale last year.
The final place on Zaccheroni’s striking corps, however, looks set to go to Yohei Toyoda. The Sagan Tosu forward is powerful, mobile and a prolific scorer, and may even edge out Osako and Kakitani for the lone striking berth when the action begins in Brazil.