Soccer

Striker Yoshinori Muto aims to impress Japan boss Vahid Halilhodzic in New Zealand friendly

Kyodo

Mainz striker Yoshinori Muto is hoping to get a chance to impress Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic as competition for places in next year’s World Cup squad starts to intensify with Friday’s home friendly with New Zealand.

Pachuca attacker Keisuke Honda and Leicester City striker Shinji Okazaki have not been called up to the squad for thematch in Toyota, Aichi Prefecture, and next Wednesday’s meeting with Haiti in Yokohama.

And with Hertha Berlin’s Genki Haraguchi nursing a sore left thigh, Muto looks set to play on the left side of attack against the All Whites.

“This is a massive chance for me and there is no way I can allow it to slip away,” Muto said after joining up with the team earlier this week.

“If they (Honda and Okazaki) were here, then I might not have been included in the squad.”

Muto did not make the bench as Japan secured a spot at next year’s World Cup finals in Russia with a 2-0 win over Australia in Saitama in August and he did not get any minutes in the 1-0 defeat away to Saudi Arabia on Sept. 5 that wrapped up Group B action in the final round of Asian qualifiers.

“To be honest, I have never experienced such frustration,” Muto said. “I have had a few disappointments until now but I can’t even explain how much (being left out) stung.

Muto joined up with the Japan squad after scoring his third goal of the season on Saturday in Mainz’s 1-1 draw against Wolfsburg.

“Scoring goals in competitive matches is crucial. As an attacker I have to be involved in goals and keep delivering results,” said Muto. “I don’t know in which position I will be playing in (for Japan), but if I am up front then I will be going all out for goals.”

Honda and Okazaki were not called up because of physical issues, and Halilhodzic’s decision give opportunities to other players.

While Japan has qualified for Russia, New Zealand has yet to book their tickets.

Friday’s game will be New Zealand’s last before its intercontinental playoff against the fifth-place South American team in November for a place at the finals.

All Whites coach Anthony Hudson said the match against Japan was ideal preparation for the team’s biggest window of the year.

“We are really pleased to have this international friendly with Japan,” Hudson told New Zealand Football’s official website.

“They are a top team and they are a team in form as they have qualified for the World Cup next year — their sixth World Cup in a row which is a great achievement.”

“They are a great team for us to play now that we have qualified for the intercontinental playoff in November.”

All Whites midfielder Ryan Thomas, who made his debut against Japan in 2014, said he was looking forward to the challenge against Halilhodzic’s men.

“Japan are obviously a very good team. It is going to be a good test for us. The team is going to be quite technical so they are obviously going to be quite similar to whoever we face in November.”

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