Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic recalled Mainz striker Yoshinori Muto on Thursday as he named a 24-man squad for the upcoming Asian final-round World Cup qualifiers against United Arab Emirates and Thailand.
Muto returns after a lengthy spell sidelined with an injury, joining a strong squad that features AC Milan attacker Keisuke Honda, Borussia Dortmund’s Shinji Kagawa and Leicester City striker Shinji Okazaki.
The squad also includes Arsenal striker Takuma Asano and Kawasaki Frontale midfielder Ryota Oshima, who both played for Japan’s Under-23s at the just-concluded Rio Olympics.
Japan kick off the final round in Group B at home against UAE in Saitama on Sept. 1 looking to exact revenge for its quarterfinal penalty shootout defeat at last year’s Asia Cup. The Samurai Blue move to Bangkok to play Thailand on Sept. 6.
Muto is back after injuring his knee in February and aggravating it upon his return late in March. Halilhodzic said he would take a look at Muto before deciding whether he is ready to play, but said he has been given assurances by Mainz’s medical staff.
“Muto is coming back from injury but he is training well. He didn’t play in the last game but could play in the start of the (Bundesliga) season (this weekend). I have been told by their medical staff I can have peace of mind in calling him up,” said Halilhodzic.
Halilhozic also said he wanted a good look at Asano, who recently joined Arsenal but will be loaned out to a club outside Britain this season after failing to get a work permit.
Asano was part of the Japan U-23 team that was knocked out in the group phase in Rio.
“Asano is in a difficult situation. I don’t know who told him to come back to Japan after the Olympics, but someone told him to rest,” said Halilhodzic. “I spoke to (Arsenal manager) Arsene Wenger on the phone but the plan was that he was to be away for the whole Olympics so he is training in Japan and we don’t know where he is moving. I’m not sure whether he will play in the first match (against) UAE, but I trust him.”
Urawa Reds defender Tomoaki Makino has been called up despite injury concerns, but Kashima Antlers striker Mu Kanazaki has been axed for throwing a tantrum when he was substituted in a league game against Shonan Bellmare on Saturday.
“He (Kanazaki) was on my list but you cannot have an attitude like that as a candidate for the national team,” said Halilhodzic.
Makoto Hasebe is set to make his 100th appearance against UAE and Halilhodzic paid tribute to his captain.
“Hasebe is my captain and I hope we can win as it would be a nice present for him,” the coach said. “If he scored it would be a fantastic occasion.”
Japan came through the second round of qualifiers after being held to a shock 0-0 draw at home to Singapore. Its final round group also features Asian Cup winners Australia and Iraq, who like UAE reached the semifinals of last year’s tournament. Saudi Arabia is also in the group.
“It is a hard road ahead and we cannot forget what happened against Singapore,” said Halilhodzic. “Three of the teams in our group reached the semifinals of the Asian Cup and we are determined to get revenge against UAE. We have to be brave and go and get wins.”
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), Kosuke Ota (Vitesse Arnhem), Maya Yoshida (Southampton), Hiroki Sakai (Marseille), Gotoku Sakai (Hamburg), Shoji Gen (Kashima Antlers)
Midfielders — Makoto Hasebe (Eintracht Frankfurt), Yosuke Kashiwagi (Urawa Reds), Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund), Hiroshi Kiyotake (Sevilla), Hotaru Yamaguchi (Cerezo Osaka), Ryota Oshima (Kawasaki Frontale)
Forwards — Shinji Okazaki (Leicester City), Keisuke Honda (AC Milan), Yu Kobayashi (Kawasaki Frontale), Genki Haraguchi (Hertha Berlin), Takashi Usami (Augsburg), Yoshinori Muto (Mainz), Takuma Asano (Arsenal)