Shinji Kagawa is set to make his return for Japan after being named Thursday to the Samurai Blue squad for the upcoming international friendlies against Colombia and Bolivia.
Manager Hajime Moriyasu included the veteran midfielder in his 23-man squad for the matches, which will serve as warmups for the Copa America in Brazil.
Japan will play Colombia at Yokohama’s Nissan Stadium on March 22 before meeting Bolivia at Noevir Stadium in Kobe four days later.
Kagawa, currently on loan from Borussia Dortmund to Besiktas, has not played for Japan since last summer’s World Cup in Russia. The 29-year-old was left out of the squad for the Asian Cup earlier this year.
Moriyasu has called up four uncapped players — Consadole Sapporo striker Musashi Suzuki, Sint-Truiden forward Daichi Kamada, Kashima Antlers left-back Koki Anzai and Yokohama F Marinos center-back Shinnosuke Hatanaka.
“In order for the team to become stronger, I’ve called up new players (to the side) so we can improve our level,” Moriyasu told a news conference.
“Colombia and Bolivia are both strong teams in South America. By playing these two games, we will be able to know where we stand, what we can do and what we need to work on.”
Japan will be without regular starter Yuya Osako after his club Werder Bremen announced it would not release the injury-hampered striker for the Copa America, which the Samurai Blue will be contesting as an invited nation for the second time.
Asian champion Qatar, host of the 2022 World Cup, will also take part in the June 14 to July 7 Copa America as invitees.
Samurai Blue captain Maya Yoshida, whose club side Southampton is currently locked in a relegation battle, was also left out of the squad for the friendlies.
Moriyasu previously said it would be “difficult” to send the strongest possible squad to the Copa America because overseas clubs are only obligated to release South American players for the continental tournament.
Kagawa, who is expected to be available for the tournament, will finish his loan deal with Turkish club Besiktas at the end of the season.
Club president Fikret Orman, who visited Tokyo on Wednesday to investigate the possibility of playing preseason matches in Japan, told reporters he wanted to sign Kagawa to a full transfer and multi-year contract after the season.
Japan squad for March friendlies:
Goalkeepers: Masaaki Higashiguchi (Gamba Osaka), Daniel Schmidt (Vegalta Sendai), Kosuke Nakamura (Kashiwa Reysol).
Defenders: Daigo Nishi (Vissel Kobe), Sho Sasaki (Sanfrecce Hiroshima), Gen Shoji (Toulouse), Sei Muroya (FC Tokyo), Takehiro Tomiyasu (Sint-Truiden), Genta Miura (Gamba Osaka), Koki Anzai (Kashima Antlers), Shinnosuke Hatanaka (Yokohama F Marinos).
Midfielders: Takashi Inui (Alaves), Shinji Kagawa (Besiktas), Hotaru Yamaguchi (Vissel Kobe), Yuki Kobayashi (Heerenveen), Takashi Usami (Fortuna Dusseldorf), Gaku Shibasaki (Getafe), Shoya Nakajima (Al-Duhail), Takumi Minamino (Salzburg), Hidemasa Morita (Kawasaki Frontale), Ritsu Doan (Groningen).
Forwards: Musashi Suzuki (Consadole Sapporo), Daichi Kamada (Sint-Truiden).
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5