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Japan coach Ivica Osim named Europe-based players Shunsuke Nakamura and Naohiro Takahara in a preliminary 18-man squad for the international friendly against Peru on Saturday evening.

Celtic playmaker Nakamura and Eintracht Frankfurt striker Takahara are the first Europe-based players to be called up by Osim since he took over from Zico in July last year.

Nakamura, 28, has been in brilliant form this season for Scottish Premier League giant Celtic, while the 27-year-old Takahara has hit a purple patch in Germany with league 10 goals so far this season for Frankfurt.

Takahara was the sole striker named in the squad, with no place for JEF United Chiba’s Seiichiro Maki, Sanfrecce Hiroshima’s Hisato Sato or Kawasaki Frontale’s Kazuki Ganaha, although Osim is expected to add players after Wednesday’s Nabisco Cup and Asian Champions League games.

The match against the Peruvians at International Stadium Yokohama is the first game of the year for Osim’s men and begins the countdown to Japan’s defense of the Asian Cup, to be jointly hosted by Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam in July.

The Japanese, who will face Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Vietnam in their Hanoi-based Group B, are looking to win the tournament for the third-successive time after triumphs in Lebanon in 2000 and China in 2004.

“Just like the last two editions, it won’t be easy to win the Asian Cup,” Nakamura recently told the Asian Football Confederation Web site.

“Japan will need to spare no efforts if we are to win the title for the third consecutive time.”

THE SQUAD:

Goalkeepers: Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi (Jubilo Iwata), Eiji Kawashima (Kawasaki Frontale), Shusaku Nishikawa (Oita Trinita)

Defenders: Yuji Nakazawa (Yokohama F. Marinos), Keisuke Tsuboi (Urawa Reds), Marcus Tulio Tanaka (Urawa Reds), Yuki Abe (Urawa Reds)

Midfielders: Shunsuke Nakamura (Celtic), Hideo Hashimoto (Gamba Osaka), Naotake Hanyu (JEF United Chiba), Akira Kaji (Gamba Osaka), Yasuhito Endo (Gamba Osaka) Takahiro Futagawa (Gamba Osaka), Kengo Nakamura (Kawasaki Frontale), Keita Suzuki (Urawa Reds), Yuichi Komano (Sanfrecce Hiroshima), Jungo Fujimoto (Shimizu S-Pulse)

Forward: Naohiro Takahara (Eintracht Frankfurt)

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