FIFA World Cup 2018: Japan Rely on Old Guard for Russia
Trouble-hit Japan will hope star power can reverse their flagging fortunes after new coach Akira Nishino named his 23-man squad for the World Cup in Russia on Thursday.
Japan's Makoto Hasebe, center left, and Gaku Shibasaki, center right, warm up during a training session. (AP Photo/Shuji Kajiyama)
Tokyo: Trouble-hit Japan will hope star power can reverse their flagging fortunes after new coach Akira Nishino named his 23-man squad for the World Cup in Russia on Thursday.
The former JFA technical director, who took charge after predecessor Vahid Halilhodzic was controversially fired last month, signalled his intentions by turning to his old guard, including talismanic forward Keisuke Honda and playmaker Shinji Kagawa.
Japan, beaten 2-0 by Ghana on Wednesday in Nishino's first game as coach, face Colombia, Senegal and Poland in Group H at the World Cup.
Forward Shinji Okazaki, who has won a Premier League title with Leicester City, and defenders Yuto Nagatomo and Maya Yoshida will also bring experience to a Blue Samurai team low on confidence.
"In a short space of time, I've been charged with a very tough job to select 23 players," Nishino told reporters.
"It's hard to decide so quickly but I'm confident in this group, despite last night's result," added the 63-year-old.
"Hopefully we can pick up points game by game and get through the group stage."
Japan, who will be playing in their sixth successive World Cup, have only twice reached the last 16 -- in 2010 and as co-hosts in 2002.
Okazaki and Kagawa, who had both been struggling with injury, returned to the Japan side as substitutes on Wednesday -- the one silver lining for Nishino on a tough night.
Kagawa and Honda were two of those thought to have been at loggerheads with Halilhodzic, who was unceremoniously dumped by JFA president Kozo Tashima citing a breakdown of communication between the players and the firebrand Franco-Bosnian.
Japan travel to Europe to take on Switzerland on June 6 and Paraguay on June 12 in final tune-ups.
Squad (teams Japanese unless stated otherwise):
Goalkeepers - Eiji Kawashima (Metz/FRA), Masaaki Higashiguchi (Gamba Osaka), Kosuke Nakamura (Kashiwa).
Defenders - Yuto Nagatomo (Galatasaray/TUR), Tomoaki Makino (Urawa), Wataru Endo (Urawa), Maya Yoshida (Southampton/ENG), Hiroki Sakai (Marseille/FRA), Gotoku Sakai (Hamburg/GER), Gen Shoji, Naomichi Ueda (Kashima).
Midfielders - Makoto Hasebe (Eintracht Frankfurt/GER), Keisuke Honda (Pachuca/MEX), Takashi Inui (Eibar/ESP), Shinji Kagawa (Dortmund/GER), Hotaru Yamaguchi (Cerezo Osaka), Genki Haraguchi, (Fortuna Dusseldorf/GER), Takashi Usami (Fortuna Dusseldorf/GER), Gaku Shibasaki (Getafe/ESP), Ryota Oshima (Kawasaki)
Forwards - Shinji Okazaki (Leicester/ENG), Yuya Osako (Werder Bremen/GER), Yoshinori Muto (Mainz/GER)
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