Nishino touts Aoyama’s experience, calls Kagawa’s position “delicate”

Japan head coach Akira Nishino on Friday discussed his selections for Japan’s upcoming friendly against Ghana, stressing that none of the 27 listed players are guaranteed a tickets to Russia for the upcoming 2018 FIFA World Cup.

Nishino, who is under pressure to earn results in Group H following his shock appointment last month, indicated that he was not afraid to consider six players included in Japan’s provisional 35-man squad which was filed with FIFA on May 14.

“I’ve selected players whom I think can reach their top condition in the next month,” Nishino told reporters. “We won’t have all of our players together until May 25. Europe’s leagues end this weekend and depending on (the players’) condition I can always consider additional call-ups.

“I won’t necessarily submit my final list of 23 players from this list of 27 to FIFA. This is just the squad for the Ghana match.”

Two familiar names in the list are Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa, who in recent months had been mostly absent from the national team under former head coach Vahid Halilhodzic. While Honda has been in top form for Pachuca in the second half of the Liga MX season, Kagawa only recently returned to action after sustaining an injury in mid-February.

“(Honda and Kagawa) have been at the centre of the national team, but we have to delicately consider Kagawa’s situation,” admitted Nishino. “He hasn’t been in top form over the last three months, and we won’t know what his condition is until we see him in the training camp. He’s a player we can’t replace, and I hope he’ll come to us in top form.”

The most surprising domestic inclusion may have been Toshihiro Aoyama, the 32-year-old central midfielder who has captained Sanfrecce Hiroshima to the best start in J1 League history. A surprise selection to the 2014 World Cup, Aoyama last wore the blue shirt on March 15, 2015 when he scored the opening goal of Japan’s 5-1 friendly win against Uzbekistan.

“He’s been out of the national team picture for a while, but I wanted to add his achievements and experience to the side,” said Nishino. “That said he’s undoubtedly one of the top performers right now.”

With a squad heavy on midfielders and light on strikers, Nishino’s preferred formation remains an open question ahead of next month’s tournament.

“Other than goalkeepers, I almost wish that we didn’t list players by position,” he admitted. “We need players who can be versatile, and we have several players who can play multiple positions. I want us to have lots of options.”