Japan manager Vahid Halilhodzic left two-time World Cup goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima off his 23-man squad on Thursday for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Cambodia and Afghanistan.
European-based attackers Keisuke Honda, Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki were recalled for the Cambodia game in Saitama on Sept. 3 and Afghanistan match in neutral Iran on Sept. 8, but there was no room for Kawashima, who is still looking for a new club after leaving Belgian club Standard Liege.
“This is the first time I have not included Kawashima but unfortunately he has not yet found a new club,” Halilhodzic told a news conference at the Japan Football Association’s headquarters in Tokyo.
“He has been the first-choice Japan goalkeeper for the past four or five years and I am a bit surprised that he hasn’t found a club in Europe yet. I hope he can keep going and find a new club quickly,” added the former Algeria coach, who picked Urawa Reds custodian Shusaku Nishikawa, Gamba Osaka’s Masaaki Higashiguchi and uncapped Yuji Rokutan of Vegalta Sendai.
“There aren’t many players that can replace Kawashima but the three players I have picked have done well and there is no problem with them being on this list. I want them to seize their chance and show confidence.”
Halihodzic has come under fire having failed to win a single competitive game of four played since he took over from sacked Mexican Javier Aguirre.
Japan was held to an embarrassing 0-0 draw to Singapore in June in its opening match of the second round of Asian qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Earlier this month, Japan’s second-string squad finished last at the East Asian Cup for the first time after a winless campaign at the four-team tournament in Wuhan, China.
Halilhodzic refused to be downcast about the recent results but admitted he would sleep better if the team beat Cambodia and Afghanistan.
“You’re right we haven’t won yet and I considered many things after the Singapore game and the East Asian Cup,” Halilhodzic said after delivering an exhaustive 40-minute evaluation of every single player he named to the squad.
“It is the first time in my life I have gone four matches without a win. I love winning and I am not satisfied that we have not won. But I am not sad either. The players showed great quality in the Singapore game and created plenty of chances, really tried hard to score and defended well.
“But at the same time we don’t want a repeat of that against Cambodia. We don’t want to make excuses a second time. We have to score and produce a performance that we can all be satisfied with.”
“Even though I wasn’t pleased with how we did at the East Asian Cup, I think if we had won our first game we would have finished top,” said Halilhodzic, whose team was stunned 2-1 by North Korea in their opening match before drawing with South Korea and host China. “We were much better against South Korea and China.
“I have big hopes for the Cambodia match and hopefully the players will be fired up and win. Then I want them to win the away game, too. After that I will be able to sleep better.”
The 23-man squad:
Goalkeepers — Masaaki Higashiguchi (Gamba Osaka), Shusaku Nishikawa (Urawa Reds), Yuji Rokutan (Vegalta Sendai)
Defenders — Daiki Niwa (Gamba Osaka), Yuto Nagatomo (Inter Milan), Tomoaki Makino (Urawa Reds), Masato Morishige (FC Tokyo), Koki Yonekura (Gamba Osaka), Maya Yoshida (Southampton), Hiroki Sakai (Hannover), Gotoku Sakai (Hamburg)
Midfielders – Makoto Hasebe (Eintracht Frankfurt), Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund), Hotaru Yamaguchi (Cerezo Osaka), Genki Haraguchi (Hertha Berlin), Gaku Shibasaki (Kashima Antlers), Wataru Endo (Shonan Bellmare)
Forwards — Shinji Okazaki (Leicester City), Keisuke Honda (AC Milan), Shinzo Koroki (Urawa Reds), Kensuke Nagai (Nagoya Grampus), Takashi Usami (Gamba Osaka), Yoshinori Muto (Mainz)
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