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Kanazaki called up for World Cup qualifiers

Kyodo

Kashima Antlers striker Mu Kanazaki earned his first national call-up in five years as Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic on Thursday named his squad for the upcoming 2018 World Cup qualifiers away to Singapore and Cambodia.

Sagan Tosu goalkeeper Akihiro Hayashi and FC Tokyo defender Yuichi Maruyama were also picked by the Franco-Bosnian coach, who made six chances to his last squad. Regulars Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa were also included, as expected, in the 23-man group.

Japan takes on Singapore on Nov. 12 before playing Cambodia in Phnom Penh five days later.

There was no recall for two-time World Cup goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima, who has agreed to join Scottish club Dundee United, or Dutch-based striker Mike Havenaar, who has scored seven times this season for ADO Den Haag and was expected to be included after the Japan Football Association asked Den Haag to make him available for selection.

Kanazaki, who joined Kashima this year on a season-long loan from Portuguese side Portimonense, has been in excellent form this season and scored to help Antlers whip Gamba Osaka 3-0 last Saturday to win the Nabisco Cup for a record sixth time.

The 26-year-old Kanazaki last played for Japan in a friendly against South Korea on Oct. 12, 2015.

“I want to take a direct look at Kanazaki in training,” Halilhodzic told a press conference. “He has done a really good job these past few months, not just in the middle, but all over the pitch.

“He is not the biggest of players but he can protect the ball, he uses his speed, he can fight for the ball and is good in the air. He scored in the (Nabisco Cup) final but it is not like I just discovered him yesterday. I have wanted to take a look at as many players as I can in my first year (as coach).”

Hayashi has been given the nod over Vegalta Sendai’s Yuji Rokutan while Halilhodzic suggested Kawashima will not get recalled until a deal with Dundee United is completed and he is playing again.

“It is good news that Eiji has agreed to join a new club but he still has to obtain a work permit. I am sure he is pleased but I want him to start playing again as soon as possible,” he said.

Of uncapped Maruyama, Halilhodzic said, “There are not many left-footed central defenders around and hopefully he will take his chance and put pressure on other players.”

Wataru Endo and Hiroki Sakai return along with Hiroki Fujiharu.

Japan was held to a shock 0-0 draw against Singapore in its opening qualifier in Asian second-round Group E in June before sweeping aside Cambodia 3-0 in September.

Japan is currently second in Group E on 10 points from four games, two behind Syria, which has played five matches.

“It is still difficult to accept that result against Singapore (in June),” said Halilhodzic. “We want to get a result and get top spot (back). We will be focused for that game. It is up to us to get revenge.”

The squad:

Goalkeepers — Masaaki Higashiguchi (Gamba Osaka), Shusaku Nishikawa (Urawa Reds), Akihiro Hayashi (Sagan Tosu)

Defenders — Yuto Nagatomo (Inter Milan), Tomoaki Makino (Urawa Reds), Masato Morishige (FC Tokyo), Maya Yoshida (Southampton), Hiroki Fujiharu (Gamba Osaka), Yuichi Maruyama (FC Tokyo), Hiroki Sakai (Hannover)

Midfielders — Makoto Hasebe (Eintracht Frankfurt), Yosuke Kashiwagi (Urawa Reds), Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund), Hiroshi Kiyotake (Hannover), Hotaru Yamaguchi (Cerezo Osaka), Wataru Endo (Shonan Bellmare)

Forwards — Shinji Okazaki (Leicester City), Keisuke Honda (AC Milan), Mu Kanazaki (Kashima Antlers), Genki Haraguchi (Hertha Berlin), Takashi Usami (Gamba Osaka), Yoshinori Muto (Mainz), Takumi Minamino (Salzburg)