Japan suffered a further setback ahead of the Asian Cup when Gamba Osaka striker Ryuji Bando was ruled out of the finals with a hamstring injury.

Bando’s place in the 23-man squad was taken by FC Tokyo youngster Masahiko Inoha on Wednesday just hours before coach Ivica Osim and Co. left for Hanoi.

The 21-year-old Inoha plays as a defensive midfielder but featured at center back in Japan’s under-22 side during the recent Olympic qualifiers.

Bando hurt his right hamstring during a practice match on Tuesday, according to the Japan Football Association.

The striker’s withdrawal is a another blow to Japan’s chances of lifting a third-straight Asian crown after Urawa Reds center-back Marcus Tulio Tanaka and JEF United Chiba defender Hiroki Mizumoto were ruled out last week after failing to recover from injuries in time.

Osim was in a cautious mood on Tuesday on the final day of the squad’s training camp in Narashino, warning reporters that a fourth continental title, after the triumphs of 1992, 2000 and 2004, is far from a foregone conclusion.

“You should not be surprised by any result. You may be expecting us to come home after the final on July 29 but there is the possibility we will come home after just three group matches,” Osim said.

“Whatever result we may produce, it won’t be the end for Japanese football. It will rather be our start for the World Cup qualifying round next year,” the 66-year-old Osim said.

Japan, based in Hanoi for the first round, plays Asian Games gold medalist Qatar on Monday in their opening game of the July 7-29 tournament cohosted by Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Osim’s men also face United Arab Emirates and cohost Vietnam in Group B.

The Bosnian coach has made clear his dissatisfaction with Japan’s build up to the finals. The J. League schedule ran until June 30, leaving the coach with scant time for preparation and his players tired. In contrast, Australia, perhaps Japan’s strongest rival in the tournament, has spent time together at a training camp in Singapore ahead of the finals.

“Our opponents know that our players are tired . . . I must work out something so we are not stuck in a high-rhythm, high-tempo game.” Osim said.

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