Soccer

Hiroki Sakai ruled out of Japan's friendlies against Mali and Ukraine

KYODO

Marseille defender Hiroki Sakai will be absent from the Japan national squad for the two friendlies in Belgium this month due to a right hip injury, the Japan Football Association said Wednesday.

Sakai will not be traveling with the team during the March 19-27 tour, when coach Vahid Halilhodzic’s men play games against Mali and Ukraine on March 23 and 27, respectively, in the eastern Belgium city of Liege.

The 27-year-old sustained the injury in a match Sunday night against Lyon, and the French first-division club said he will be sidelined for seven to 10 days.

Meanwhile, Hamburg SV defender Gotoku Sakai, a last-minute addition, has joined his international teammates in training and said he did not lose sleep over being left off the initial list.

“It’s the boss’s call and I’m the type that puts the club (Hamburg) first so I had no hard feelings,” he said.

“I’m sure there will be an opportunity for me to play. I want to show what I’ve got.”

The friendlies in Belgium are warm-ups for the World Cup in Russia in June and July, when Japan will face Columbia, Senegal and Poland in Group H.

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