Kawasaki Frontale’s two-time World Cup striker Yoshito Okubo could be in line for a recall to the Japan national team, coach Vahid Halilhodzic said on Wednesday.
Okubo, who has not played for Japan since the 2014 World Cup, became the J. League’s career leading scorer with 159 goals last weekend after netting a stoppage-time winner for J1 leader Kawasaki against Sagan Tosu.
While Halilhodzic on Wednesday stopped short of saying he would definitely call up Okubo for the Kirin Cup in June, the Bosnian did say the 33-year-old firebrand is worthy of being on the national side.
“Someone like Okubo deserves to be on the team,” Halilhodzic said of the league’s top goal-scorer the last three seasons. “He may be approaching 34 but he continues to score. He has contributed to the national team in the past and gets the job done in the league.
“I may call up 25, 26 players. There could be opportunities for those I haven’t picked before.”
A night after the Asian draw for the World Cup final qualifiers, the Japan Football Association announced Halilhodzic’s side will play Bulgaria on June 3 in the Kirin Cup at Toyota Stadium, where Bosnia-Herzegovina and Denmark will also face off.
The winners of the two games will meet four days later at Osaka’s Suita Stadium for the Kirin Cup title. The four-way mini-tournament will be the last tune-up for Japan before hosting the United Arab Emirates on Sept. 1 in its opening World Cup qualifier.
Halilhodzic sees Bulgaria as a good test for two of Japan’s final-round opponents, Australia and Iraq.
“Bulgaria are physical and can be a bit rough,” the manager said. “They will make good preparation for Australia and Iraq.
“The final qualifiers will be much more difficult than the previous round, and the Kirin Cup will make a good test for us. I want my players to believe that they can beat anyone, that anything is possible.
“The three teams we’ve invited could very well be going to the World Cup and we could end up facing them in Russia. I’m looking forward to seeing how we hold our own against teams higher than us in the FIFA rankings.”
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5