Football

13 Europe-based players in Japan's squad for Singapore World Cup qualifier

Halilhodzic calls up 13 Europe-based players for World Cup qualifier against S'pore

Beware Singapore.

Japan will unleash their top players on the Lions in a 2018 World Cup Group E qualifier this month after coach Vahid Halilhodzic yesterday named 13 Europe-based players among his squad.

Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa are expected to headline the attack when the Blue Samurai begin their qualifying campaign against Singapore in Saitama on June 16.

Inter Milan's Yuto Nagatomo and Bundesliga-bound Yoshinori Muto are also included in the squad, but it is the form of Gamba Osaka striker Takashi Usami that coach Halilhodzic is keen to exploit.

Japan host Iraq in a Yokohama friendly on June 11 before kicking off their 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign - which also doubles up as an Asian Cup qualifier - against Singapore five days later.

The Japanese have shown improvement under the 62-year-old Franco-Bosnian, who took over in March after Javier Aguirre was sacked amid fears the Mexican's involvement in a match-fixing case in Spain could hinder their World Cup hopes.

After a disappointing Asian Cup in January, when the defending champions were knocked out in the quarter-finals by United Arab Emirates, the Japanese appear to be back on track after wins over Tunisia and Uzbekistan.

JOY TO WATCH

Usami, who scored as a second-half substitute in Japan's 5-1 rout of the Uzbeks in March, is the joint top-scorer in the Japanese top flight with 10 goals in 12 games and the buzzing forward has been a joy to watch in the Asian Champions League.

"I expect a lot from Usami," Kyodo News quoted Halilhodzic as saying yesterday. "He's had a good season so far and he'll probably end up being top scorer.

"He has enormous talent and will only get better. He has a lot to offer to the national team."

Halilhodzic could pair Usami with Muto at some point, although the 22-year-old FC Tokyo striker, who recently opted for a move to German side Mainz instead of English champions Chelsea, is more likely to start on the bench.

"We won the two games in March but we need to build on them," Halilhodzic said.

"I want to create a winning culture while I'm here, which I believe is of utmost importance."

Japan will play their Group E away matches against Afghanistan and Syria on neutral territory later this year because of security concerns in the war-torn countries. Cambodia are also in the group. - Wire Services.

JAPAN SQUAD

  • Goalkeepers: Eiji Kawashima, Masaaki Higashiguchi, Shusaku Nishikawa, Shuichi Gondo
  • Defenders: Hiroki Sakai, Gotoku Sakai, Yuto Nagatomo, Kosuke Ota, Maya Yoshida, Daiki Niwa, Tomoaki Makino, Masato Morishige
  • Midfielders: Makoto Hasebe, Hotaru Yamaguchi, Shogo Taniguchi, Gaku Shibasaki, Hiroshi Kiyotake, Shinji Kagawa
  • Forwards: Keisuke Honda, Yoshinori Muto, Shinji Okazaki, Genki Haraguchi, Yuya Osako, Takashi Usami, Kengo Kawamata.
JapanWorld Cup