Japan FIFA World Cup

Japan’s Shinji Okazaki could miss World Cup; Takuma Asano a potential replacement

Japan striker Shinji Okazaki could miss the 2018 FIFA World Cup with a right calf injury that has prevented him from training with the side.

Okazaki suffered the knock during Japan’s 4-2 friendly win over Paraguay on June 12, in which he came off in the 74th minute. He has trained separately from the rest of his Samurai Blue teammates since the squad arrived at their base camp in Kazan.

“There are players with significant fitness issues; I’m most concerned about Okazaki,” Japan head coach Akira Nishino said after training on June 15.

According to Sports Hochi, Okazaki could be replaced by Takuma Asano, who has spent the last two seasons on loan at Stuttgart from Arsenal. The 23-year-old was one of two backup members named by the Japan Football Association (JFA) along with midfielder Yosuke Ideguchi.

While Okazaki’s 50 international goals in 113 appearances have made him Japan’s third-most prolific scorer, his form has trailed off in recent years with just two goals in 2016 and only one last year. Nevertheless, the 32-year-old had a fan in Nishino, who said there was “no substitute” for Okazaki’s role last month.

The JFA has until 24 hours before the start of their Group H opener against Colombia on Tuesday, June 19 to file such a request with FIFA.