Japan's Hasebe returns for crucial World Cup qualifiers
HONG KONG (Reuters) - Makoto Hasebe has been recalled for Japan's crucial World Cup qualifying matches against Australia and Saudi Arabia, after the Eintrqacht Frankfurt midfielder was included in head coach Vahid Halilhodzic's squad on Thursday.
Having missed games against the United Arab Emirates, Thailand and Iraq due to surgery on a knee injury, Japan's captain has made a full recovery to be selected in Halilhodzic's initial 27-man squad.
"There are a number of players I am concerned about and I have done this because I don't want to take risks. I want to look first-hand at the players I have got and see what the possibilities are," Halilhodzic was reported as saying by Kyodo News.
The former Algeria coach has also recalled Getafe midfielder Gaku Shibasaki as well as striker Yoshinori Muto, while there are fitness concerns over Yuya Osako, Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa.
Japan lead Group B of Asia's qualifying competition for the tournament in Russia next year by a solitary point and victory over Australia on Aug. 31 would secure a place in the World Cup finals for a sixth successive time.
However, with the Australians and Saudi Arabia only a point behind, Halilhodzic's side cannot afford to slip up or risk being forced to continue their qualification quest via a series of playoffs.
"We started the final round of qualifiers on the wrong foot (with a 2-1 home defeat to UAE last September) but we are top of the group," Halilhodzic said.
"I hear the recent criticism directed my way and it puts pressure on me but this is the kind of situation I like. The more I come under attack and the more criticism I face, the more determined I am to respond."
Goalkeepers: Eiji Kawashima (Metz, France), Masaaki Higashiguchi (Gamba Osaka), Kosuke Nakamura (Kashiwa Reysol).
Defenders: Yuto Nagatomo (Inter Milan, Italy), Tomoaki Makino (Urawa Reds), Maya Yoshida (Southampton, England), Hiroki Sakai (Marseille, France), Gotoku Sakai (Hamburg, Germany), Gen Shoji (Kashima Antlers), Naomichi Ueda (Kashima Antlers), Genta Miura (Gamba Osaka).
Midfielders: Makoto Hasebe (Eintracht Frankfurt, Germany), Yojiro Takahagi (FC Tokyo), Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund, Germany), Hotaru Yamaguchi (Cerezo Osaka), Yuki Kobayashi (Heerenveen, Holland), Gaku Shibasaki (Getafe, Spain), Yosuke Ideguchi (Gamba Osaka).
Forwards: Shinji Okazaki (Leicester City, England), Keisuke Honda (Pachuca, Mexico), Takashi Inui (Eibar, Spain), Yuya Osako (Cologne, Germany), Genki Haraguchi (Hertha Berlin, Germany), Yoshinori Muto (Mainz, Germany), Kenyu Sugimoto (Cerezo Osaka), Yuya Kubo (Gent, Belgium), Takuma Asano (Stuttgart, Germany).
(Reporting by Michael Church; Editing by Christian Radnedge)