Japan national team head coach Akira Nishino announced his 23-man squad for the 2018 FIFA World Cup on Thursday afternoon, deciding to rely on an experienced core of veterans to navigate a challenging Group H.
The ‘big three’ of Keisuke Honda, Shinji Kagawa, and Shinji Okazaki were all handed their tickets to Russia despite limited playing time over the last year, whether due to injury or a failure to impress previous head coach Vahid Halilhodzic. All three participated in Japan’s 0-2 loss to Ghana on Wednesday night, the first match in which all three had appeared since a June 7, 2017 friendly against Syria.
“There are a lot of players who helped us get to Russia, a lot of players who are doing well at the moment, and a lot of players who are going to become great in the future,” Nishino told reporters. “And it’s amongst all these circumstances that I have to select my squad.”
While goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima, defender Yuto Nagatomo, and midfielder captain Makoto Hasebe were selected to their third straight World Cup tournament, midfielders Yosuke Ideguchi and Kento Misao as well as striker Takuma Asano will have to wait till 2022 after being cut from the preliminary squad.
“All three are incredibly promising and they contributed a lot to get us to this point,” Nishino said. “But in considering their top performance level I wasn’t able to include them. I think they will carry Japan in the future.”
Nishino, who was appointed just two months before the start of the tournament following the controversial dismissal of previous head coach Vahid Halilhodzic, is under significant pressure to steer the side toward their first knockout stage appearance since the 2010 tournament in South Africa.
“I want us to play the Japanese style of football,” Nishino said when asked of his goals for the tournament. “In terms of numbers we want to get points from each match and get out of the group stage. If we can do that I think we will be able to demonstrate our style.”
Japan will open their campaign against Colombia in Saransk on June 19 before facing Senegal in Ekaterinburg on June 24 and Poland in Volgograd on June 29.
Samurai Blue squad for the 2018 FIFA World Cup
Goalkeepers: Eiji Kawashima (Metz), Masaaki Higashiguchi (Gamba Osaka), Kosuke Nakamura (Kashiwa Reysol)
Defenders: Yuto Nagatomo (Galatasaray), Tomoaki Makino (Urawa Reds), Maya Yoshida (Southampton), Hiroki Sakai (Marseille), Gotoku Sakai (Hamburger SV), Gen Shoji (Kashima Antlers), Wataru Endo (Urawa Reds), Naomichi Ueda (Kashima Antlers)
Midfielders: Makoto Hasebe (Frankfurt), Keisuke Honda (Pachuca), Takashi Inui (Eibar), Shinji Kagawa (Dortmund), Hotaru Yamaguchi (Cerezo Osaka), Genki Haraguchi (Fortuna Dusseldorf), Takashi Usami (Fortuna Dusseldorf), Gaku Shibasaki (Getafe), Ryota Oshima (Kawasaki Frontale)
Forwards: Shinji Okazaki (Leicester), Yuya Osako (Werder Bremen), Yoshinori Muto (Mainz)