SAITAMA – Japan goalkeeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi is set to make his first national team appearance since last autumn when the Asian champion takes on India in Wednesday’s World Cup qualifier in Saitama.
Japan coach Zico has handed the 28-year-old Denmark-based stopper the job as first-choice ‘keeper Seigo Narazaki is suffering with a knee injury picked up in the 3-2 win over Iceland in England at the end of last month.
“Kawaguchi will play. Narazaki’s injury is not serious and he wanted to play but I told him that I didn’t think it was worth the risk,” Zico told reporters on Tuesday after his side’s final tuneup for the Asian Zone Group 3 match.
Kawaguchi, who last played for Japan in the 1-1 draw away to Romania last October, said he is looking forward to getting the chance to prove his worth to Zico.
“It’s been frustrating (being left out) but now I have to show (Zico) a good performance and show him that I should be Japan’s No. 1,” he said.
“Normally I only have a short time to prepare for national team games but this time I’ve had two weeks to train with the squad and I’m on good form,” he said.
Kawaguchi, who plays for Nordsjaelland, and Jubilo Iwata midfielder Takashi Fukunishi, in for Junichi Inamoto, are the only two changes Zico will make to the side that drew 1-1 away against England team last week in Manchester.
Inamoto, who broke his leg in the late stages of the England match, is out of the India game and Japan’s defense of the Asian Cup, which begins on July 20 with a Group D clash against Oman in Chongqing.
Zico has a host of injury problems, with two other Europe-based stars, Bologna midfielder Hidetoshi Nakata and Hamburg SV striker Naohiro Takahara also ruled out.
Japan captain Nakata has missed the last few international matches with a groin complaint and is still touch-and-go for the Asian Cup, while Takahara was sidelined from the England match with a pulmonary embolism, which also kept him out of the 2002 World Cup finals.
India is ranked 139th in the world and is not expected to provide much of a test for Japan, but Zico has warned his side against complacency.
“India will be playing defensively and looking to counter, the same way they played (in the recent 1-1 draw) against Indonesia so we need to be careful,” said Zico.
“I think the games against England and Iceland in Manchester gave us a good workout but we have to perform our best and need to get three points,” he added.
Japan leads the group with six points from two matches after wins over Oman (1-0) and Singapore (2-1).
India won its group opener 1-0 against Singapore but was hammered 5-1 by Oman in its next qualifier.
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