CHIBA – Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic picked Leicester City striker Shinji Okazaki in a 25-man squad for the upcoming Kirin Cup on Thursday.
First-team regulars Shinji Kagawa of Dortmund and AC Milan’s Keisuke Honda were also selected, while there were first call-ups for Kawasaki Frontale’s under-23 international Ryota Oshima and Jubilo Iwata’s Yuki Kobayashi.
The Kirin Cup features Japan, Denmark, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Bulgaria. The matches will be played on June 3 at Aichi Prefecture’s Toyota Stadium and June 7 at Osaka’s Suita Stadium.
The tournament also serves as a warm-up for Japan for the Asian final qualifiers of the 2018 World Cup starting in September at home to the United Arab Emirates.
Halilhodzic said Japan should be proud of Okazaki’s achievement with Premier League champion Leicester, a 5,000-1 outsider at the start of the season, but was not sure how much he would figure at the Kirin Cup.
“Okazaki has been on his travels (in Thailand to celebrate Leicester’s title win) and I am not sure what type of physical condition he is in or whether he can play, but I want to applaud him,” Halilhodzic told a news conference.
“The players and supporters in Japan should be proud of him. But I also must say that he has a different role with his club to the one he has with the national team.”
Halilhodzic, meanwhile, defended his decision to overlook in-form Kawasaki striker Yoshito Okubo, saying there was no evidence so far that he could translate his goal-scoring exploits onto the international stage.
“I have called him to a camp before and I know that he has been the top scorer (in the J. League) for the last three seasons. He is a true goalscorer,” Halilhodzic said.
“But I have to think about his age. I have watched him play for the national team but he hasn’t scored that many goals and his role was different. I am not saying I will never pick him. If we need him in the final round of qualifiers, then I will.”
“But we have players like (Okazaki) and (injured Yoshinori) Muto and (Takuma) Asano that I want to use more.”
Halilhodzic recalled Asano, who has been playing for Japan’s Olympic team at the Toulon Tournament in France and scored in its opening 2-1 defeat to Paraguay on Saturday.
“When I picked him for the East Asian Cup (in China last August) he wasn’t even starting at Hiroshima but like I said at the time, the national team will need him in the future,” he said of the Sanfrecce Hiroshima striker.
“He has his strengths and weaknesses, but he is only 21 years old and has all the makings of a goalgetter.”
Asano was one of three U-23 Japan players picked along with Oshima and Wataru Endo of Urawa Reds.
Goalkeepers — Eiji Kawashima (Dundee United), Shusaku Nishikawa (Urawa Reds), Masaaki Higashiguchi (Gamba Osaka),
Defenders — Hiroki Sakai (Hannover), Gotoku Sakai (Hamburg), Yuto Nagatomo (Inter Milan), Tomoaki Makino (Urawa Reds), Maya Yoshida (Southampton), Masato Morishige (FC Tokyo), Gen Shoji (Kashima Antlers), Yuichi Maruyama (FC Tokyo)
Midfielders — Makoto Hasebe (Eintracht Frankfurt), Yosuke Kashiwagi (Urawa Reds), Wataru Endo (Urawa Reds), Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund), Hiroshi Kiyotake (Hannover), Ryota Oshima (Kawasaki Frontale), Yuki Kobayashi (Jubilo Iwata)
Forwards — Keisuke Honda (AC Milan), Yu Kobayashi (Kawasaki Frontale), Takashi Usami (Gamba Osaka), Genki Haraguchi (Hertha Berlin), Shinji Okazaki (Leicester City), Mu Kanazaki (Kashima Antlers), Takuma Asano (Sanfrecce Hiroshima)