Cologne striker Yuya Osako returned to the national team fold as Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic on Friday named his squad for next week’s friendly against Oman and a crunch final-round World Cup qualifier against Group B leader Saudi Arabia in Saitama on Nov. 15.
Halilhodzic also handed a first call-up to Gamba Osaka midfielder Yosuke Ideguchi, with regulars Keisuke Honda, Shinji Okazaki and Shinji Kagawa also in the 25-man group. Japan warm up for the Saudis against Oman in Kashima on Nov. 11.
Osako, who recently signed a three-year contract extension with Bundesliga side Cologne through 2020, has not been part of the national team since last June.
“Osako was a logical choice because he is playing constantly,” Halilhodzic told a news conference at the Japan Football Association’s headquarters.
“I want him to compete with (Mainz striker Yoshinori) Muto but Muto is injured at the moment. Still, Osako has always been on our list. Last season he did not play very much and he was playing in a different position at his club (to the national team).”
“At the moment it seems he is playing just behind the strikers and (Cologne) are using someone quicker in front of him. But what we need is someone who can score goals. He can increase our goal rate and that is the type of player I am looking for.”
Halilhodzic said he has been impressed with Rio Olympic midfielder Ideguchi, who scored the leveler on Thursday as Gamba came from two goals down to win 3-2 away to Kawasaki Frontale on the final day of the regular season.
“He is doing well and has talent,” Halilhodzic said of Ideguchi. “He can score goals and is good with his left foot and right foot. He is physical and can win balls. I want to freshen up the group with young players.”
Ideguchi said, “I’m delighted to get the call. I have been playing more this season and I think I have been called up because of the experience I have gained with Gamba and the Japan Under-23 team.”
There were also recalls for Heerenveen midfielder Yuki Kobayashi and uncapped Young Boys striker Yuya Kubo.
Saudi Arabia currently has 10 points from four games in Group B, two ahead of second-place Australia and three ahead of third-place Japan, its most recent result a 3-0 thumping of United Arab Emirates.
“Saudi Arabia are really improving, physically and tactically,” said Halilhodzic.
“They draw a lot of free kicks and penalties. Half of their goals have come from penalties or free kicks and that is something we have to be wary of and not fall into their trap. They are penalty specialists.”
“We could not get good results against UAE (2-1 defeat at home) and Australia (1-1 draw away) because of conceding penalties and had we not, things would be a lot different.”
Goalkeepers — Eiji Kawashima (Metz), Masaaki Higashiguchi (Gamba Osaka), Shusaku Nishikawa (Urawa Reds)
Defenders — Yuto Nagatomo (Inter Milan), Tomoaki Makino (Urawa Reds), Masato Morishige (FC Tokyo), Maya Yoshida (Southampton), Yuichi Maruyama (FC Tokyo), Hiroki Sakai (Marseille), Gotoku Sakai (Hamburg), Naomichi Ueda (Kashima Antlers)
Midfielders — Makoto Hasebe (Eintracht Frankfurt), Ryota Nagaki (Kashima Antlers), Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund), Hiroshi Kiyotake (Sevilla), Hotaru Yamaguchi (Cerezo Osaka), Yuki Kobayashi (Heerenveen), Yosuke Ideguchi (Gamba Osaka)
Forwards — Shinji Okazaki (Leicester City), Keisuke Honda (AC Milan), Manabu Saito (Yokohama F Marinos), Yuya Osako (Cologne), Genki Haraguchi (Hertha Berlin), Yuya Kubo (Young Boys), Takuma Asano (Stuttgart)