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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Kawaguchi returns as Okada announces World Cup squad

Staff writer

Veteran goalkeeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi and striker Kisho Yano were the biggest surprises in an otherwise familiar selection as national team manager Takeshi Okada named his squad for the World Cup on Monday.

News photo
Day of reckoning: National team manager Takeshi Okadaannounces his 23-man World Cup squad on Monday. KYODO PHOTO

Shinji Ono, who many had tipped to make a late run into the 23-man roster, did not make the cut, while Sota Hirayama, Naohiro Ishikawa, Shinji Kagawa and Mitsuo Ogasawara were also among those omitted.

Kawaguchi has been a member of every squad since Japan first qualified for the world's top tournament in 1998, but he has not appeared for his club side, Jubilo Iwata, since breaking his leg in September last year.

The 34-year-old's previous callup was in January 2009, but Okada believes the experience he has accrued from 116 international games makes him a vital backup to No. 1 Seigo Narazaki and deputy Eiji Kawashima in South Africa.

"To be the third-choice goalkeeper is difficult for Kawaguchi, but he is a leader and the other players respect him so I thought he would be useful for this tournament," Okada said.

"At first he lost his place in the team, but I spoke to him and asked him if he could accept being a substitute. He said he was fine with that. Before he got injured I was watching him to see how he would react, and I think he has become stronger mentally through the bad times."

Albirex Niigata's Yano was the other unexpected inclusion, but the 185-cm striker's size and strength tipped the balance as Okada looks to nullify the physical presence of Group E opponents Cameroon, the Netherlands and Denmark.

"He has great strength and works hard, and if the game looks like it's heading for a draw he can come on and pose a threat from set pieces, close down space and get forward on the counterattack," Okada said of Yano.

"We will find ourselves in various situations at the World Cup and I will need to think about the timing and the positioning and the choice of my players. With that in mind, the players I have chosen are not necessarily the best 23 individually but the best suited for the occasion."

Elsewhere, there were few surprises, disappointing those hoping for a repeat of the fireworks 12 years ago when Okada left star striker Kazuyoshi Miura out of his squad for Japan's World Cup debut in France.

Shunsuke Nakamura heads a tried-and-trusted group that qualified for the June 11-July 11 finals with two games to spare, although CSKA Moscow's Keisuke Honda and Catania's Takayuki Morimoto have come through over the past year to clinch their places.

"Honda moved to Russia and changed his playing style," Okada said. "He has become a lot more confident and dangerous around the box, and he can be a big threat for us. Morimoto might not start games, but he is physical and strong in front of goal."

Kashima Antlers defender Daiki Iwamasa also made the cut despite having only two international caps to his name.

"Until now I have been using (Marcus) Tulio (Tanaka) and (Yuji) Nakazawa together in defense, but if one of them gets injured we have to be ready to replace them," Okada said.

Japan plays South Korea in a friendly in Saitama on May 24 before heading to Switzerland for a training camp two days later. Okada's side opens its World Cup campaign against Cameroon in Bloemfontein on June 14, and the manager is determined to get off to a strong start.

"The first game is the most important," Okada said. "We've never won a World Cup game away from home, so if we lose it could have an impact on the players mentally. The Netherlands are one of the best teams in the world but there's always a chance we can beat them. It might be a slim chance, but it's our job to rise to the challenge."

Click to read individual profiles of each player

* * * * *

Goalkeepers: Seigo Narazaki (Nagoya Grampus), Eiji Kawashima (Kawasaki Frontale), Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi (Jubilo Iwata)

Defenders: Yuji Nakazawa (Yokohama F Marinos), Marcus Tulio Tanaka (Nagoya Grampus), Yasuyuki Konno (FC Tokyo), Daiki Iwamasa (Kashima Antlers), Yuichi Komano (Jubilo Iwata), Yuto Nagatomo (FC Tokyo), Atsuto Uchida (Kashima Antlers)

Midfielders: Shunsuke Nakamura (Yokohama F Marinos), Yasuhito Endo (Gamba Osaka), Kengo Nakamura (Kawasaki Frontale), Junichi Inamoto (Kawasaki Frontale), Yuki Abe (Urawa Reds), Makoto Hasebe (VfL Wolfsburg, Germany), Keisuke Honda (CSKA Moscow, Russia), Daisuke Matsui (Grenoble, France)

Forwards: Shinji Okazaki (Shimizu S-Pulse), Keiji Tamada (Nagoya Grampus), Yoshito Okubo (Vissel Kobe), Takayuki Morimoto (Catania, Italy), Kisho Yano (Albirex Niigata)

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