Japan’s men’s national football team’s 23-man squad for the World Cup next month was released on Monday. Italian coach Alberto Zaccheroni included the expected players who ply their football trade in Europe, but also included some surprising names as Japan aims to better their performance in the world’s biggest football tournament.
The call-up for 31-year-old Kawasaki Frontale striker Yoshito Okubo was unexpected as he hasn’t suited up for the Samurai Blue since February 2012 and has been included in the squad since Zaccheroni took charge in 2010. But he has been impressive the past two seasons in the J-League, scoring eight so far in the current season and is the second top-scorer over-all. However some say Okubo’s inclusion is at the expense of another top local-based striker, Yohei Toyoda from Sagan Tosu. Another surprise inclusion is Toshihiro Aoyama, a midfielder for another J-League top team, Sanfrecce Hiroshima.
Out of the 23 who will be playing for Japan in their Group C matches, 12 play in European clubs, including Shinji Kagawa (Manchester United), Keisuke Honda (AC Milan), Shinji Okazaki (Mainz 05), and Yuto Nagatomo (Inter Milan). Samurai Blue captain Makoto Hasebe has also been named to the squad, despite a long time away from the pitch due to a knee injury. Zaccheroni also included Atsuto Uchida and Maya Yoshida who both have fitness concerns as well. “It was extremely difficult to choose only 23 players, since there were more than 23 who deserved to go play in Brazil,” said Zaccheroni. But he explained that he based his decision after having worked with the team for the past four years.
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Goalkeepers: Eiji Kawashima (Standard Liege), Shusaku Nishikawa (Urawa Reds), Shuichi Gonda (FC Tokyo)
Defenders: Masato Morishige (FC Tokyo), Yasuyuki Konno (Gamba Osaka), Yuto Nagatomo (Inter Milan), Maya Yoshida (Southampton), Masahiko Inoha (Jubilo Iwata), Atsuto Uchida (Schalke 04), Hiroki Sakai (Hannover 96), Gotoku Sakai (VfB Stuttgart)
Midfielders: Yasuhito Endo (Gamba Osaka), Keisuke Honda (AC Milan), Shinji Kagawa (Manchester United), Makoto Hasebe (FC Nuremberg), Hiroshi Kiyotake (FC Nuremberg), Hotaru Yamaguchi (Cerezo Osaka), Toshihiro Aoyama (Sanfrecce Hiroshima), Manabu Saito (Yokohama F. Marinos).
Forwards: Shinji Okazaki (Mainz), Yoichiro Kakitani (Cerezo Osaka), Yuya Osako (TSV Munich 1860), Yoshito Okubo (Kawasaki Frontale)
[ via Wall Street Journal ]