AL, AIN UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – Japan captain Makoto Hasebe said Monday he will fly home for further tests after a right knee injury forced him to withdraw from the national team’s upcoming final-round World Cup qualifiers against UAE and Thailand.
The 33-year-old midfielder will depart having only arrived in the Middle East from Germany on Sunday to speak with Japan national team medical staff about the injury he sustained with his Bundesliga club Eintracht Frankfurt.
“There is a good chance I will go under the knife. I’ll return to Japan for a third opinion with a trusted doctor,” said Hasebe, who was advised by both Japan and Frankfurt staff to undergo arthroscopic surgery to monitor the damage to the knee.
“Until I do that I won’t know (how long I will need to make a full recovery).”
The news comes as a major blow to Japan, which faces UAE here on Thursday before taking on Thailand at home in Saitama in another Group B match on March 28.
“I’m leaving the team just before this crucial match (against UAE) and I feel really bad. Obviously I am very disappointed and it has been a very difficult decision to make,” Hasebe told reporters.
“But I don’t think this will have too much of a negative impact on the team. I trust my teammates 100, 120 percent.”
Japan suffered a controversial 2-1 defeat to UAE in its opening match in the final round of qualifiers last September, when Takuma Asano had a legitimate goal ruled out that would have leveled the match 2-2.
Vahid Halilhozic’s men are level on 10 points from five games with Saudi Arabia, which tops the group on goal difference. Third-place Australia and fourth-place UAE both have nine points, with Iraq three and bottom club Thailand one.
“Ever since losing the first game against the UAE at home I have wanted to come here and erase the disappointment of that defeat. I have played well with my club with that feeling in mind and to get this injury just before the game is heartbreaking,” said Hasebe.
The midfielder suffered a gash to his left shin after colliding with the post in Frankfurt’s 3-0 defeat away to Bayern Munich on March 11, but it turned out his right knee also ended up being a problem.
Hasebe was immediately taken to hospital and had six stitches in his shin. Frankfurt said he had an MRI on Thursday and cleared him to return the following day, but had to cut training short. Team medical staff decided later that Hasebe needed an operation and said he would be out indefinitely.
Hasebe said Frankfurt had accepted his decision to join up with the national team to discuss his injury.
“I spoke with my club and told them I want to talk about the injury with the coach and the medical staff and get their opinion. When I explained that they gave me the go sign so there was no problem,” he said.
Hasebe has been Japan skipper since the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
Halilhodzic said last week in announcing his squad for the two qualifiers, “Hasebe is a very strong captain for us. Having a team without him in it is unthinkable.”
Gamba Osaka utility man Yasuyuki Konno, recalled by Halilhodzic after a two-year blank, would appear to be the most obvious choice to fill in for Hasebe, who has a record 73 appearances as captain.
“I’m surprised,” Konno, capped 87 times, said after he was called up. “I’m not sure exactly what I will be able to do.”