Japan manager Alberto Zaccheroni yesterday announced his squad for next month’s Asian Cup, with CSKA Moscow midfielder Keisuke Honda chosen to lead the Blue Samurai in Qatar.
Honda scored two goals in the World Cup in South Africa in June as Japan reached the knockout stage in their best World Cup performance on foreign soil, before losing to Paraguay on penalties in the last 16.
Honda is one of the eight Europe-based players in Japan’s squad, with Lierse SK goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima, defenders Yuto Nagatomo of Cesena, Atsuto Uchida of Schalke and Maya Yoshida of Dutch side VVV Venlo joining him.
Midfielders Daisuke Matsui of FK Tom Tomsk, Makoto Hasebe of Wolfsburg and Shinji Kagawa of Borussia Dortmund, who was named as the most valuable player in the German league’s first half, complete the group who earn their living in Europe.
The team also includes Hajime Hosogai, who has signed a contract with German side Bayer Leverkusen.
“The Japanese team has been improving in 2010 with the excellent result in the World Cup and the men’s and women’s gold medals in the Asian Games,” said Zaccheroni, the former boss of AC Milan.
“We should keep the momentum but our ultimate goal is the 2014 World Cup. The history of Japanese football does not end at the Asian Cup. I want to help the young players improve a lot through the tournament,” he said.
Zaccheroni said he had picked players who had potential and were capable of integrating themselves with the team.
Knee injuries have ruled out key defenders, Brazilian-born Marcus Tulio Tanaka, who helped Nagoya Grampus win their first J-League title in the just ended season, and Yuji Nakazawa.
Catania striker Takayuki Morimoto’s “surprise” knee surgery has also cost him a place in the squad.
Morimoto, 22, underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee following Sunday’s 1-0 win over Brescia in Serie A without informing the JFA or Zaccheroni.
“Morimoto’s surgery was as much of a surprise to me and the JFA as it was for you people,” Zaccheroni told reporters yesterday. “We probably found out the same time you people did.”
Zaccheroni bemoaned the timing of Asia’s premier international soccer tournament.
“This tournament is being held at an unusual time on the calendar,” he said. “The World Cup players have not rested and some have gone through a brutal schedule this year.”
The Japan Football Association is targetting a top-three finish at the Asian Cup, which will qualify them for the next Asian Cup.
Japan will play Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria in the preliminary Group B competition, starting from Jan. 7 to Jan. 29.
Eiji Kawashima (Lierse SK), Shusaku Nishikawa (Sanfrecce Hiroshima), Shuichi Gonda (FC Tokyo)
Daiki Iwamasa (Kashima Antlers), Yasuyuki Konno (FC Tokyo), Masahiko Inoha (Kashima Antlers), Yuto Nagatomo (Cesena), Tomoaki Makino (Sanfrecce Hiroshima), Atsuto Uchida (Schalke), Maya Yoshida (VVV Venlo), Gotoku Sakai (Albirex Niigata)
Yasuhito Endo (Gamba Osaka), Daisuke Matsui (FK Tom Tomsk), Makoto Hasebe (Wolfsburg), Jungo Fujimoto (Shimizu S-Pulse), Takuya Honda (Shimizu S-Pulse), Hajime Hosogai (Urawa Red Diamonds), Keisuke Honda (CSKA Moscow), Yosuke Kashiwagi (Urawa Red Diamonds), Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund)
Ryoichi Maeda (Jubilo Iwata), Tadanari Lee (Sanfrecce Hiroshima), Shinji Okazaki (Shimizu S-Pulse)