SAITAMA – Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic says goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima will not play in the World Cup qualifiers against Afghanistan and Syria. He probably will not even be on the bench.
But Kawashima, knowing he has a lot of catching up to do, is not about to argue.
“Obviously there’s a lot I feel about the team,” Kawashima said on the eve of Thursday’s game against Afghanistan, a side Japan thrashed 6-0 away in September. “If and when I step out on to the pitch, I just have to show what kind of player I am.”
Although Kawashima was in goal for Dundee United in Sunday’s 2-2 draw against Dundee — on his 33rd birthday — Halilhodzic said that he is not ready to reclaim the No. 1 shirt he had owned since the 2010 World Cup to last June.
Halilhodzic had kept Kawashima away from the team because he failed to sign with a club until the winter transfer window, when he latched on with Dundee United.
“Eiji is not here to play,” Halilhodzic said. “He’s still hurting. He can train but still has to be careful when he kicks. He’s here to communicate with us, do some recovery work, train a little. He won’t be in the 23 for the first game.
“We need to understand what Eiji plans to do for the new season. He cannot have another season like the one he had and we need to discuss that with him. He has a wealth of experience and has been a key part of the setup the last several years. He has plenty to offer to the other players.
“Playing overseas doesn’t guarantee you a place on the team. No one is getting any gifts from me. If you don’t play well or have a bad attitude, you do not play for the national side. You have to earn your place on the team, and that goes for everyone.”
Kawashima feels differently about the injury to his thigh, but understands where the manager is coming from.
“I played in the most recent game so I personally think I’m fit enough to play,” he said. “I always want to play. But the coach has his policies so that’s that.”
Kawashima — who paid tribute to the victims of Tuesday’s terrorist attacks in Belgium, where he spent five seasons at Standard Liege and Lierse — will not be the only household name for Japan who will not play against Afghanistan.
Citing fatigue, Halilhodzic said Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa will sit out. Hiroshi Kiyotake is also a question mark having picked up a recent knock with Hannover.
Halilhodzic made it clear he will tactically experiment — the Bosnian did not say how — and it remains to be seen which 11 names will be penciled into the lineup although Dutch-based forward Mike Havenaar will feature at some point on Thursday.
“It’s been a while since I’ve been called up to the national team,” said the ADO Den Haag target man, who earned a recall for the first time since October 2014 with 13 goals in 25 league appearances this season. “This could be my last chance so I need to make it count.
“I think my height can be a weapon and I need to play to my strengths,” said Havenaar, 28, who stands at 194 cm. “Given my age, the next World Cup will be my last opportunity. I’ve got to fight my way into the team, anyway I can.”