National team manager Vahid Halilhodzic on Thursday warned World Cup qualifying heroes Takuma Asano and Yosuke Ideguchi to force their way onto their club teams or risk missing out on this summer’s tournament in Russia as he named his squad for two friendly matches in Europe.
Halilhodzic announced a 26-man roster for games against Mali on March 23 and Ukraine on March 27, both to be played in Liege, Belgium.
But there was no place on the list for Cultural Leonesa midfielder Ideguchi or Stuttgart striker Asano, who both scored in Japan’s 2-0 World Cup qualifying win over Australia last August to secure the team’s place at the June 14-July 15 World Cup.
Both players have found playing time with their clubs hard to come by this season, with Asano yet to appear in the German Bundesliga this year and midfielder Ideguchi’s last game for Spanish side Leonesa coming on Feb. 18.
“Some players are not getting game time at their clubs,” Halilhodzic said. “Some are not even getting on the bench. It makes me sad that Asano and Ideguchi are not playing.
“They were the heroes of our qualifying game against Australia. But, unfortunately, they are now in a difficult situation. They haven’t been chosen this time, and if things continue the way they are, there is a chance that they won’t be chosen for the World Cup.”
Japan has three games before Halilhodzic has to submit his 23-man World Cup squad to meet the June 4 deadline, and the Bosnian indicated on Thursday that he would announce his selection after Japan’s May 30 friendly against Ghana in Yokohama.
Halilhodzic is missing injured regulars Maya Yoshida, Shinji Kagawa and Hiroshi Kiyotake for next week’s trip to Europe, but the manager recalled FC Tokyo defender Masato Morishige after a year’s absence and handed a first call-up to Portimonense forward Shoya Nakajima.
“Nakajima has been playing in a lot of games, and he can score goals and create them,” Halilhodzic said of the 23-year-old Nakajima, who has scored nine goals in 22 appearances for the Portuguese side this season. “He is an explosive dribbler and there aren’t many players like that in Japan. I don’t think his defensive work is quite up to national team level yet but I want to take a look at him.
“I want to see what kind of shape Morishige is in. I want to give him some encouragement. I want to see if he is back to his best level. We are missing Maya and we can use his experience.”
There was no place on the squad for Leicester City striker Shinji Okazaki, with Halilhodzic choosing Kawasaki Frontale’s Yu Kobayashi, Cerezo Osaka’s Kenyu Sugimoto and Cologne’s Yuya Osako up front instead.
“I’ve gone with Kobayashi, Sugimoto and Osako this time,” he said. “They have different qualities to Okazaki. They score more goals. Of course Okazaki has his qualities but he performs a very different role with Leicester to how we play in the national team.”
Japan has been drawn in a first-round group with Poland, Colombia and Senegal at the World Cup, and Halilhodzic believes Mali and Ukraine — neither of which has qualified for this summer’s tournament — will provide an ideal trial run.
“I have done a lot of preparation in my mind, analyzing our opponents,” he said. “They are three different types of team, from Africa, Europe and South America. I have watched a lot of their games and we will need different tactics for each match at the World Cup.
“I have tried to instill a winning culture in this team. Japanese players are very disciplined but we need to be ready tactically and physically, and also mentally. We will need to be strong to realize our dreams.”