Japan squad named for World Cup qualifiers

Kyodo

ADO Den Haag striker Mike Havenaar returned to the national team fold and two-time World Cup goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima won a recall as Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic on Thursday named his squad for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers at home to Afghanistan and Syria.

Yu Kobayashi is also back along with Gotoku Sakai, while regulars Keisuke Honda, Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki were selected as expected for the last two games of second-round qualifying on March 24 and 29.

Havenaar has not been called up for national team duty since October 2014 but the 194-cm striker has forced his way into Halilhodzic’s plans with an impressive strike rate this season.

“He has scored (league) 13 goals and his height gives us an option that we haven’t had until now,” Halilhodzic said. “He is good with his head, tries hard and he has told me that he wants to come back. . . .”

Halilhodzic dropped Kawashima from the national team for the World Cup Asian qualifiers back in August, citing the 2010 and 2014 World Cup ‘keeper’s failure to find a new club. He joined Dundee United in December, though Halilhodzic has warned him he has a fight on his hands to win his place back in the team.

“I haven’t had much time together with Eiji but he is playing in the Scottish (Premier) league now,” Halilhodzic said. “He has been injured and not played in recent games but I have been in contact with him and he is training. Barring any problems he should play this weekend. We will take a look at him and see what the situation is.

“His presence and performances are important. He has experience and was a regular in the Japan team over the last several years but he has to win his place in the team. Competition is getting tougher.

“Whether he plays (for Japan) is another problem. Gamba Osaka goalkeeper Masaaki Higashiguchi is playing well for his club and I’ll probably give him a chance.”

Halihodzic said Kobayashi has impressed him at a recent mini-camp for J. League players in Chiba Prefecture.

“I have been watching Kobayashi and it is no coincidence that I have picked him,” he stated. “He showed a lot of quality at the mini camp. He can play on the right or in the middle and is a goal-getter, something that we have been lacking. I want to see what he can do.”

Japan tops Group E with 16 points from six games played, one ahead of Syria.

Halilhodzic said he may experiment with different tactics in the two games against Afghanistan and Syria.

“Honda, Shinji (Kagawa) and Eiji can’t get back to Japan until Tuesday and I don’t know what kind of condition they will be in so maybe they won’t play. They will be tired and therefore could get injured more easily. I might try something new.”

The squad:

Goalkeepers — Eiji Kawashima (Dundee United), Masaaki Higashiguchi (Gamba Osaka), Shusaku Nishikawa (Urawa Reds), Akihiro Hayashi (Sagan Tosu)

Defenders — Yuto Nagatomo (Inter Milan), Tomoaki Makino (Urawa Reds), Masato Morishige (FC Tokyo), Maya Yoshida (Southampton), Hiroki Fujiharu (Gamba Osaka), Hiroki Sakai (Hannover), Gotoku Sakai (Hamburg), Gen Shoji (Kashima Antlers)

Midfielders — Makoto Hasebe (Eintracht Frankfurt), Yosuke Kashiwagi (Urawa Reds), Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund), Hiroshi Kiyotake (Hannover), Hotaru Yamaguchi (Hannover), Genki Haraguchi (Hertha Berlin)

Forwards — Shinji Okazaki (Leicester City), Keisuke Honda (AC Milan), Mike Havenaar (ADO Den Haag), Yu Kobayashi (Kawasaki Frontale), Mu Kanazaki (Kashima Antlers), Takashi Usami (Gamba Osaka)