Samurai Blue edge rival Australia

I was at Nagai Stadium in Osaka on Tuesday night to see the latest clash between two of Asia’s prominent rivals, Japan and Australia. After the game I spoke to some of the key protagonists for The Japan News…

The Japan News, Thursday 20th November, 2014

OSAKA — The rivalry between Japan and Australia has steadily developed into one of the biggest in Asian soccer, and the latest clash between the sides — in which Japan edged 2-1 in Osaka on Tuesday night — demonstrated why the two are the favorites in January’s Asian Cup.

In the 2011 final, it took an extra-time wonder strike from Tadanari Lee to separate the teams, and after an unconvincing start to Javier Aguirre’s reign as coach, the serious business has begun for the Samurai Blue as they look to defend their crown.

“The coach expected it of us,” Keisuke Honda said of the victory, which came swiftly on the heels of a 6-0 drubbing of Honduras last Friday. “It wasn’t a test, he expected a result, and it’s good that we were able to achieve that.

“Australia were really good,” the AC Milan star continued. “They were aggressive and speedy yet didn’t make many mistakes on the counterattack. They didn’t make many errors and in the beginning we had to endure that. I think they are probably our strongest rivals for the Asian Cup, along with South Korea.”

Goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima was pleased with the way Japan weathered an early onslaught from the Socceroos, and feels it will give them belief as they target a fifth Asian title.

“It was a big test before the Asian Cup and in Australia, it was a good opponent,” the Standard Liege stopper said. “The biggest thing is that we were able to win. The opposition came aggressively, and we were able to deal with that and produce a good result. We’re a new team, and I think that will give us lots of confidence.”

Maya Yoshida said there are still creases to be ironed out.

“I think in the first half we didn’t play very well,” the Southampton defender explained. “In the second half, we could score two goals and played a little better, but I’m not satisfied with this result because we conceded one goal at the end of the game, and we should have scored a third goal as well.”

Aiming for 2018

Thankfully for Japan, two strikes were enough, and while Shinji Okazaki finding the net is no rare occurrence — his exquisite flick made it 40 goals for the national team — Yasuyuki Konno opening the scoring was unexpected, even for the man himself.

“I was surprised,” the Gamba Osaka veteran told The Japan News. “I’m not the kind of player who scores goals, and I was surprised to be able to convert one on this stage.”

Tim Cahill is no stranger to doing that, though, and his injury-time header was his fifth goal against Japan. The New York Red Bulls striker sees the holders as the team to beat if Australia is to taste victory in front of its own fans.

“I think we have to work really hard to get to the final, both countries. Japan’s one of Asia’s best and probably favorites for the tournament, regardless of us having it at home. You see the quality of their players all over the park and in stages in the second half, they changed gear a little.”

Japan starts its defense on Jan. 12 against Palestine before taking on Iraq on Jan. 16 and Jordan on Jan. 20. With the hosts in Group A and Japan in Group D, the earliest they could face each other would be the semifinals. If both were to top their respective groups, they would be kept apart until a possible reunion in the final.

“At home, hopefully it’s going to be a different story, and we can capitalize on it and put them in an uncomfortable environment when they come to Australia,” Cahill said. “If we meet.”

Konno does anticipate another rematch. “You don’t know if it will be the final or not, but I think we may meet them at some point,” the 31-year-old said. “I hope we can bring them down at that time.”


Joy of six for Aguirre Japan

Japan picked up their first comprehensive win of Javier Aguirre’s reign on Friday night, and after the 6-0 win over Honduras I spoke to some of the experienced players who contributed to the triumph for The Japan News…

The Japan News, Sunday 16th November, 2014

TOYOTA – Javier Aguirre declared the time for testing over when he announced his latest Japan squad, and with familiar faces back in the fold the Samurai Blue clicked smoothly into gear on Friday night.
After just one win in his first four games as Japan boss – and even that coming courtesy of an own goal against Jamaica – the Mexican recalled World Cup stalwarts Makoto Hasebe, Yasuhito Endo, and Atsuto Uchida, and the veterans instantly repaid his faith with instrumental roles in a 6-0 thrashing of Honduras in Toyota.
Hasebe previously trained under Aguirre in September but had to pull out of that month’s friendlies against Uruguay and Venezuela with a knee injury. The Eintracht Frankfurt midfielder was back in possession of the captain’s armband against Honduras though, and delighted with the way his return panned out.
“We scored an early goal and although the opponents occasionally threatened too we set the rhythm and when attacking were able to get into good positions a lot,” the 30-year-old said. “Having said that, it’s just one game and we have to keep going from here.
“I think that against a higher level of opposition, for me personally, I want to play better. There are still aspects that can be improved upon.”
Endo also enjoyed his national team comeback, sending in the corner that led to Maya Yoshida’s opener after nine minutes, then adding to the score himself just before half-time after Keisuke Honda had doubled the lead.
“I was aiming to strike it lower but caught it a bit sweetly,” the Gamba Osaka man said of his rasping effort. “Still, a goal’s a goal and that made it 3-0 which effectively finished the game so I’m glad I was able to convert the decisive strike.”

Japan v. Honduras, Toyota Stadium, 14th November, 2014

Japan didn’t stop there though and added a further trio of goals in the second half, Takashi Inui and Yohei Toyoda grabbing their first national team strikes before Inui doubled his tally to wrap things up.
“As a forward you have to convert the chances when they’re there for you,” Sagan Tosu striker Toyoda, who is tied at the top of the J1 scoring charts with 15 goals this year, said.
“Today is big for me but I’m never satisfied and know that even though it’s difficult I have to score more and more goals.”
Aguirre will certainly be demanding more of his troops now that they have shown what they are capable of, and Endo is impressed with his latest boss.
“I think he’s passionate and up until now we haven’t had that type of coach for the national team,” the 34-year-old, playing his 147th game for his fifth permanent Japan coach, said of the former Atletico Madrid tactician. “When he needs to be strict he’s strict – that gives us a good pressure so I think he’s a good coach for Japan.”
Hasebe also appreciates Aguirre’s style. “[He] doesn’t tell us exactly what to do when we’re out on the pitch. He gives us hints of what he wants – ‘something like this’ – but once we’re on the pitch it’s up to us.”
With almost 230 caps between them both players know that the real work starts now, with Australia up next in Osaka on Tuesday then the Asian Cup in January.
“Of course we are expected to win games like today and building confidence depends on getting wins,” Endo said. “In the four games so far maybe the team hasn’t been able to record results that they are satisfied with, but hopefully this game can act as a springboard and we can go on to play an even better game against Australia and then take that on into the Asian Cup.”
“I think Australia will present a tougher challenge,” Hasebe added. “Defensively I will have to think more and make sure I connect well with the players around me – that goes for the team as a whole.”

Is Shimizu’s pulse fading?

Shimizu S-Pulse have been ever-present in J1 since its inception in 1993, but could they be slipping through the trapdoor this season…? (日本語版はこちらです: http://www.footballchannel.jp/2014/11/12/post55469/ )

Football Channel,  November 11th, 2014

In recent years there have been a fair few surprise relegations from J1, with FC Tokyo, Gamba Osaka and Jubilo Iwata all unexpectedly dropping down to the second division for a season (or maybe more in Jubilo’s case).

This year Cerezo Osaka are on the brink of perhaps the most spectacular capitulation in recent times, four points from safety with three games to play despite having come into the season as title favourites. While the capture of Diego Forlan has backfired spectacularly for the pink half of Osaka and earned them the majority of the shocked headlines though, there is another, far more historied, J1 big boy teetering on the edge.

Shimizu S-Pulse have been a permanent member of the top-flight since 1993 and are one of just four of the J.League’s founding clubs to have never played in J2 (along with Kashima Antlers, Yokohama F.Marinos, and Nagoya Grampus). That proud record is dangerously close to being shattered this year though, with Jubilo’s Shizuoka neighbours in need of at least one more win – probably more – from their final trio of games to stay up.

All seemed lost after the recent 1-0 defeat away to Yokohama F.Marinos, the result leaving Katsunori Oenoki’s men in the bottom three and the manner of it suggesting that there was no fight left in them. There was very little in the way of cohesion, either defensively or going forwards, and Oenoki cut a nervous and uninspiring figure in the post-game press-conference, shuffling in and looking like he may burst into tears at any moment.

Just four days later they grabbed a dramatic late win over Albirex Niigata which lifted them above the dotted line though, and although they fell back beneath it again that weekend after losing 3-1 to Sanfrecce Hiroshima the great escape was back on after their most recent game, a ding-dong back-and-forth away to Kawasaki Frontale which again ended with last minute joy as substitute Kazuya Murata struck an excellent winner at the death.

Speaking after that game defender Dejan Jakovic was visibly relieved that S-Pulse’s fate was back in their own hands.

“I don’t even know what to say,” the 29-year-old said. “It’s a big performance from us. We keep conceding early goals, but we fought back and then towards the end we were content with just getting out of there with a draw. We ended up stealing a big, big win to get us out of the gutter so I’m really excited.”

S-Pulse fans ahead of their recent 3-2 win over Kawasaki Frontale

The J.League is now on a three week break which could take the wind out of Shimizu’s sails, although Jakovic pointed out that the team has struggled to build any steady form at any point throughout the season anyway.

“The thing is we’re up and down, so it doesn’t mean that if we play next week that we’re going to have this kind of performance,” he said. “We have this long break and it’s good to know that we’ve come out with a win and can breathe a little bit. Now we can focus and work on Nagoya, who we played away and had a good result against in the Emperor’s Cup. We have time now to see what we have to do.”

The precariousness of the situation means any more false steps could alter the mood in the camp again though, and a win over Grampus at Nihondaira is a must.

“It’s obviously not over,” Jakovic admitted. “There are some good teams still left and we’ve just got to take care of business at home. There are two games [at home] – I think we can do it.”

One win may not be enough to make sure of a 23rd J1 campaign, but with all of the teams in the relegation dogfight playing at least one of their fellow strugglers in the run-in three points could be enough to scrape to safety.

The most nail-biting scenario could see things taken to the last day of the season, when Cerezo travel to Omiya Ardija and Shimizu host Ventforet Kofu. With Cerezo the lowest placed battler (in 17th with 30 points) and Ventforet, courtesy of a recent four-game unbeaten run and two wins in a row, riding high (relatively speaking) in 13th on 36 those two could already know their fates by then though, leaving S-Pulse (currently 15th), Omiya (16th), and Vegalta Sendai (14th) desperately trying to avoid the last relegation spot.

Leaving things in the hands of fate doesn’t appeal to Jakovic, who was adamant that S-Pulse want to take the initiative.

“There’s three teams that we’re competing against and obviously you want to get all the points you can; you don’t want to leave it to the other teams to decide your fate. I know S-Pulse has never been relegated to J2 since they started so we need to keep it that way.”


Deja vu-rawa Reds

Urawa Reds are in pole position for this year’s J1 championship but look far from convincing and have previous when it comes to throwing titles away… (日本語版はこちらです:http://www.footballchannel.jp/2014/10/26/post53143/)

Football Channel,  October 26th, 2014

Anyone glancing at the current J1 table would be forgiven for thinking they had travelled back in time. This year’s title race is a flashback to the mid-to-late 2000s, when Urawa Reds, Gamba Osaka, and Kashima Antlers were the big boys in the J.League, and it has been a while since the real heavyweights of the Japanese game have contested the top honour.

All three clubs have experienced problems in recent seasons – with Gamba relegated to J2 in 2012, Kashima very nearly doing likewise in the same season, and Urawa only surviving in the top flight by the skin of their teeth in 2011 – but it will surely be one of them raising the J1 shield come the end of the season (although Kawasaki Frontale could sneak up on the rails and finally shake off their always-the-bridesmaid tag).

However, as always in the J.League no one team is surging towards the championship and while Reds have a seemingly comfortable five-point cushion at the top of the table they have looked anything but convincing in recent weeks.

After a fantastic spell between Rounds 9 and 25 when they lost just twice in 17 games the wheels are starting to fall off and they have been victorious in just one of their last four league games, all of which were against teams battling at the other end of the table. Furthermore, that triumph was against Tokushima Vortis, a fixture which, with all due respect, has been a free pass for opponents in J1 this year.

Is history repeating itself, then? Are Urawa set for another spectacular collapse, a la 2007? Possibly, but in order for that to happen someone needs to take advantage of Mihailo Petrovic’s side’s jitters.

None of the teams who comprised the top four heading into Round 29 were able to win on Wednesday night, and four of the current top five, including Reds, have won just two of their last five games – the same number of victories as relegation strugglers Shimizu S-Pulse and Cerezo Osaka.

The anomaly in the chasing pack is Gamba Osaka who have been in scintillating form since the restart after the World Cup, winning 12 of their 15 games and surging up from 16th to 2nd. Kenta Hasegawa’s side suffered a rare defeat to Kashiwa Reysol in midweek which leaves them five points adrift, but they still look the most likely side to pip Urawa to the post – especially as they take Reds on head-to-head next month.

“It’s a difficult number [of points] to overturn but we still have to play Urawa,” Hasegawa said after the loss to Reysol. “Instead of looking at what they’re doing our first priority has to be to focus on winning our next game at home and making sure we don’t lose two in a row.”

Gamba Osaka fans, Kashima Soccer Stadium, Sunday 5th October, 2014

Takashi Usami agreed that focusing on how the sides around them are getting on is not of any benefit to Gamba.

“Until now we have been playing without any consciousness of what other teams are doing and just focusing on the game in front of us, and we’ll keep doing that from now on too,” he said on Wednesday.

Yasuhito Endo was characteristically relaxed after the loss to Reysol, and while his coach and star striker were hesitant to reference Urawa’s situation Japan’s record cap holder was happy to shift the pressure onto the team leading the way with five games to go.

“I think the team sat at the top will be feeling it the most,” he said. “Gamba just have to apply it, we don’t really feel any pressure. We just have to keep applying pressure to Urawa and if they start to feel it then that’s great.

“Kashima still have a chance too, I think. But there are two matches before we play Urawa so we have to make sure we take six points from those games so we are able to go and take Reds on properly.”

The one thing which may curtail Gamba’s advance is the fact that they are also still going strong in both cup competitions, although Hasegawa was hesitant to use their congested fixture list as any kind of early excuse.

”The Nabisco Cup is just the final so I don’t think it will have an especially big impact,” he said. “The Emperor’s Cup semi-finals take place within two or three days in the same week so may have an impact, I’m not sure. In October we have played six games so far (up until the 22nd) and in September we played seven games. I think the team is toughening up from playing back-to-back matches. With that in mind, November isn’t going to bring so many games and one way or another I want the team to fight together as one to weather the storm.”

For Endo the intense schedule and potential for a treble was something to look forward to rather than be concerned about.

“I think it will act as a kind of motivation,” the veteran, who already has one J.League title, one Nabisco Cup, two Emperor’s Cups, and one ACL winner’s medal to his name, said. “I don’t really feel any sense of tiredness. After the next game we move to a pace of one game per week so on the contrary I think there are many things to be excited about.”

While the future may be bright for Gamba, any slip up by Reds against bitter rivals Kashima tonight could leave them wishing they could turn back time as it steadily runs out.


Aguirre getting his defence in early

It is still early days for Javier Aguirre as Japan boss, but there were signs in the recent win over Jamaica that his team is starting to take shape… (日本語版はこちらです:


Football Channel,  October 14th, 2014

Speaking after Javier Aguirre’s first game in charge of Japan last month, Yuto Nagatomo explained that the new boss was initially focusing more on the individual abilities of the players available to him than how they should function as a team. While it is still early days, the match against Jamaica suggested that the Mexican is beginning to convey to his players the shape he wants them to take though.

The Reggae Boyz were terrible opponents – making as many unforced errors as a struggling J2 side – meaning the Samurai Blue were widely panned for only being able to provide Aguirre with his first win courtesy of Nyron Nosworthy’s 16th minute own goal.

It wasn’t especially inspiring viewing from up in the Gods at the beautiful but flat Big Swan Stadium, but whereas September’s friendlies against Uruguay and Venezuela had the air of a group of diverse players being auditioned – rather like a university open trial – there were the early signs of a team being constructed in Niigata.

To begin with, a glance at the starting line-up demonstrated that, despite his early assertion that he would be trying to use all of the players in his squad, some favourites have already emerged for Aguirre.

Yuto Nagatomo, Masato Morishige, Hajime Hosogai, and Keisuke Honda have started all three of the 55-year-old’s games in charge, while Gotoku Sakai, Yoshinori Muto, and Yoichiro Kakitani have also featured each time.

While the players refuted such claims afterwards, it is clear that Aguirre is initially focusing on tightening up the team defensively. The threat from Jamaica was all-but non-existent but that didn’t stop Hosogai from dropping in almost as a third centre back alongside the impressive Morishige and Tsukasa Shiotani whenever Japan had the ball, while Sakai and Nagatomo were hesitant to tear forward and join the attacks in the first half.

That meant it was left to the front five to try and break through the ragged Jamaican backline, something they struggled to do with any regularity, with Shinji Kagawa still searching for his best form and fitness, Yoshinori Muto and Gaku Shibasaki adapting to international football, and Keisuke Honda and Shinji Okazaki both missing presentable chances.

Things looked up a little in the second half though, and although Japan were unable to find the net again they created a hatful of chances to do so – Muto missing the best of them with a delayed shot which was closed down and a header from close-range.

The reason for that increase in productivity was largely because Sakai and Nagatomo had been let off the leash a little for the second 45 minutes, and were taking it in turns to supplement the attacks from wide.

PICNiigata, Friday October 10th, 2014

“Against big teams attacking with just the front three isn’t enough and we have to get the central midfielders and full-backs involved more,” Nagatomo had said after training in Sapporo last month. “From now on we have to work together more when attacking.”

That was certainly the case as the game against Jamaica progressed, and I’m beginning to wonder if Aguirre may be trying to mould the team into more of a counter-attacking side than one which dominates possession.

Japan national teams tend to be full of players who can keep the ball, but often struggle to vary the speed of attacks once they have been in possession for a while. On the counter-attack, however, the side has frequently demonstrated an ability to catch opponents not yet set in position out on the break. Aggressive and quick full-backs such as Sakai and Nagatomo, direct forwards with sensational ball control like Muto and Kakitani, and players with Kagawa and Shibasaki’s ability to play the killer final passes would surely suit such an approach.

Of course, in order to operate that way, you need to be able to trust the guys at the back to keep the opposition at bay, which is why Aguirre is focusing so much on defensive organization at the moment.

Maya Yoshida is still probably the number one choice at centre-back, but if Shusaku Nishikawa does eventually usurp Kawashima as No.1 then his understanding with both Morishige and Shiotani could hugely benefit the national team.

The Urawa stopper has been in wonderful form yet again this season, and looks to be headed for a third straight J1 title. Amazingly he has been a regular in the J.League for 10 years now – a decade which has included spells working with Morishige (at Oita Trinita between 2006-2009) and Shiotani (at Sanfrecce Hiroshima in 2012 and 2013).

“It certainly gave me peace of mind knowing that Shu-kun was there,” Shiotani said after his debut. “We’d already spoken before the game about being there to receive passes from each each other and I think we were able to do that well in the game.”

“His strength is that he is good at dealing with opponents in one on one situations but he can also join in with the attacks as well,” Nishikawa said of his former clubmate. “I really felt that it was easy to play with him because we had played together while at Hiroshima – especially in the second half when we started to work the ball around a bit more.”

Morishige also enjoyed working alongside players who he shares such a good understanding with. “Of course we need games in order to improve upon our co-ordination but I think that in order to be able to play so well together in such a short space of time is great,” he told me in the mixed zone. “It will take time but I think we will continue to get better and better from here on in.”

Several pieces still need to be slotted into place for Aguirre, but it does look as though the puzzle is beginning to take shape.


Aguirre building Japan from the back

On Friday I headed up to Niigata to see Japan pick up a 1-0 win over Jamaica. While the Samurai Blue should have beaten a lacklustre opponent by more than a single own goal, an all-too-rare clean sheet was a welcome positive. After the game I spoke to the back five about the team’s defensive structure…

The Japan News, Sunday 11th October, 2014

NIIGATA — It is an oft-used maxim that attack is the best form of defense, but the first order of business for Japan coach Javier Aguirre would appear to be shoring up a leaky back line.

The Samurai Blue conceded 39 goals in the last 20 games of the Alberto Zaccheroni era, and continued that trend by shipping four in Aguirre’s first two matches against Uruguay and Venezuela in September — all from avoidable errors by Japan defenders.

They needed an own goal to claim the first victory of Aguirre’s reign against Jamaica in Niigata on Friday night, but the fact that they shut the opponent out in that 1-0 win was greeted with much relief.

“Since Aguirre took over, we hadn’t won, so as a team we spoke about the goal being to beat Jamaica,” goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa said post-game.

“Of course for us at the back, there is always an awareness of doing that while not conceding. The fact that we won and managed to keep a clean sheet will give the team confidence, I think.”

The scoreline was far from convincing against a poor and unprepared Reggae Boyz, but Gotoku Sakai insisted that the result takes precedence over the margin of victory.

“More important than how many goals we win by is the fact that we win,” the VfB Stuttgart fullback said.

Masato Morishige, who is steadily establishing himself as a favorite of Aguirre’s, having started all three of the Mexican’s games so far, made it clear that the team does not want to set up negatively.

“Today, we didn’t come with the intention of playing defensively at all,” the FC Tokyo centerback told The Japan News after the game.

“We wanted to come out and attack when we had the chance, but also to limit the risk at the back as well. I don’t think we were too aggressive or too defensive in this game. I believe we had a good balance between the two.”

Denka Big Swan Stadium, Niigata, Friday 10th October, 2014

Inter Milan star Yuto Nagatomo admitted that he was disappointed that the team missed a handful of chances to score more goals.

“I think it would have been better if we could have won by a few more goals; 3-0 or so would have been good, I think,” the 28-year-old said.

Even so, he was pleased with the smoothness of the defensive line, and in particular the performance of debutant Tsukasa Shiotani. “The communication between us was good, and although it was Shiotani’s first game, I thought he was very impressive. I think he played very well.”

Shiotani certainly settled into the national team with apparent ease, and although he admitted to feeling tense before kickoff, he grew into the game and completed 90 minutes at the heart of defense.

“Before the game I was nervous, but once it started, I soon lost that feeling,” the Sanfrecce Hiroshima centerback said.

“I didn’t have the experience of playing the game at this speed before, but we didn’t have to deal with any really dangerous attacks. The players up front put in a lot of running for us and that made it easy for the back line to defend.”

The next game will be a true challenge of Japan’s newfound resiliency, as it takes on five-time world champion Brazil in Singapore on Tuesday.

“Jamaica is Jamaica, Brazil is Brazil — they are completely different teams,” Sakai reasoned. “We have to decide on the way we play depending on the situation in a given game. Defensively, you always have to put your body on the line and of course we will continue to do that against Brazil.”

For Morishige, meanwhile, the outcome of the clash with the Selecao will provide a clearer marker of what Aguirre Japan can achieve.

“We have to think about how we will play depending on the opponent,” he said. “We need to respect Brazil and see what level we are currently at; how strong we are at the moment.”


Kagawa, Havenaar set to play roles for Aguirre

I was at JFA House on Wednesday to hear Javier Aguirre announce his squad for the upcoming friendlies against Jamaica and Brazil. Eight players not included in last month’s 23 made the cut, including the returning Shinji Kagawa and Mike Havenaar…

The Japan News, Thursday 2nd October, 2014

Javier Aguirre continued his mission to rejuvenate the Japan national team on Wednesday, calling up eight players he has yet to run the rule over since assuming control of the squad in August.

Shinji Kagawa and Mike Havenaar headed the list of players returning to the Samurai Blue fold, while goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda and defender Kosuke Ota, both of FC Tokyo, and Kashima Antlers’ defender Daigo Nishi were also named after spells away.

Dortmund midfielder Kagawa missed out through injury on Aguirre’s first two games in charge, friendlies against Uruguay and Venezuela. The Mexican coach is hopeful that the 25-year-old can perform a central role for him as Japan play friendlies against Jamaica in Niigata on Oct. 10 and Brazil in Singapore on Oct. 14.

“[Kagawa] is a very talented player with the ability to come up with solutions,” Aguirre said. “He is a real threat in the attacking half, has played in Europe for several years and is also able to contribute to the team defensively. For me, he is an all-rounder.

“He can play anywhere beyond the halfway line. Fundamentally, I am thinking of playing him centrally if we use a 4-3-3 formation.”

Havenaar, meanwhile, has not been involved in the Japan squad since he came on as an 85th-minute substitute in a 1-0 defeat to Belarus on Oct. 15, 2013. He has yet to score for La Liga’s bottom side Cordoba since joining from Dutch club Vitesse in the summer, but Japan’s new boss wants to take a closer look at the 1.94-meter striker.

Javier Aguirre, JFA House, Wednesday  1st October, 2014

“I was also aware of him from the national team before,” Aguirre explained. “I want to see him playing as a center forward in this team. I trust him.”

Three other players — defenders Tsukasa Shiotani of Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Gen Shoji of Kashima Antlers, and Kawasaki Frontale striker Yu Kobayashi — have been handed opportunities to make their Japan debuts based on recent league form.

“I’ve been watching many J.League games and those players are all contributing to teams doing well,” Aguirre said.

“Irrespective of their teams’ results, they always perform well. They are young but have experience — all of them are established as regulars. They can perform well in the J.League, and in these two games I want to see if they are able to replicate that at the international level.”

The full squad is:

■ Goalkeepers: Eiji Kawashima, Shusaku Nishikawa, Shuichi Gonda

■ Defenders: Hiroki Mizumoto, Yuto Nagatomo, Kosuke Ota, Daigo Nishi, Maya Yoshida, Tsukasa Shiotani, Gotoku Sakai, Gen Shoji

■ Midfielders: Hajime Hosogai, Masato Morishige, Junya Tanaka, Shinji Kagawa, Ryota Morioka, Gaku Shibasaki

■ Forwards: Shinji Okazaki, Keisuke Honda, Mike Havenaar, Yu Kobayashi, Yoichiro Kakitani, Yoshinori Muto

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