• Kyodo


Japan forward Keisuke Honda will miss Friday’s Kirin Cup game against Bulgaria with a left-knee injury and could also be out for the second match next week, coach Vahid Halilhodzic said Wednesday.

Halilhodzic made it clear he is not taking any risks with the AC Milan man, who has sat out training the last couple of days having developed pain in the knee.

After Japan plays Bulgaria, it faces either Denmark or Halilhodzic’s native Bosnia-Herzegovina on Tuesday in Osaka.

“He will not play the first game,” Halilhodzic said at Toyota Stadium. “If he recovers in time, he will play the second game, but I’m not going to risk him.

“It’s disappointing because he brings so much to our team. Honda has been the key to this team the last several years, and you cannot expect to easily find a replacement for him.

“It’s a difficult time of year because we’re at the end of the European season. So no Keisuke means a chance for someone else . . . I’m not afraid to give the younger players a chance.”

Honda said he has never had this type of injury, adding there’s no telling when it will heal.

“It still hurts,” Honda said following training. “I can’t say anything for sure about the second game right now. It all depends on how fast I can become fit.

“Usually, muscle injuries happen to players with pace so I always felt they’d never be an issue for me.”

Honda urged his teammates to step up in his absence or otherwise, Japan can expect a tough time at the next World Cup.

“If the team is that different with me and without me, we’re not going to have a chance at the World Cup in two years’ time,” he said.

Halilhodzic, however, is prepared to give a game to Eiji Kawashima, the former first-choice goalkeeper who lost his place to Urawa Reds’ Shusaku Nishikawa after failing to find a club for half of last season.

“Eiji has already gotten in a few days of training and he will likely play,” the manager said. “He has shown me he wants the No. 1 job back. But I haven’t decided who my No. 1 is yet.

“I will know by September,” he said, referring to the start of the World Cup final qualifiers.

Kawashima, who has not played for Japan since the infamous 0-0 home draw to Singapore in June last year, was more than up for the occasion.

“If I get in, it will be my first opportunity in a long time so I’m looking forward to it,” Kawashima said. “I’ve invested a lot into the national team and feel strongly about playing for Japan.

“We don’t get to play European-style teams that often so we need to make the most of it. It’s important to perform well in the matches when you get your chance. Simply training hard isn’t good enough.”

The Kirin Cup is Japan’s last warmup before Halilhodzic’s men host the United Arab Emirates on Sept. 1 and take on Thailand away five days later in the final qualifying round for Russia.


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