Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni on Monday shrugged off the absence of injured Manchester United attacking midfielder Shinji Kagawa from a World Cup qualifier against Oman away next week.
The four-time Asian champions, leading Asia’s final round Group B five points clear of Oman and Australia, have the depth to make up for missing stand outs, the coach insisted.
Zaccheroni, announcing his 23-man squad against Oman, recalled how Kagawa had stayed idle for months after breaking his right foot in the January 2011 Asian Cup and CSKA Moscow playmaker Keisuke Honda had missed the next-to-last World Cup qualifying round with a knee injury.
“But don’t forget that the players that have come in to deputise for them have done a great job,” said the Italian tactician, who took over the Blue Samurai after their march to the last 16 at the 2010 World Cup.
“Kagawa is not here this time, but I’m sure that whoever fills in for him will do well,” he said, according to Kyodo news agency.
Kagawa, 23, who moved from Borussia Dortmund in the summer, injured his left knee in Manchester United’s 3-2 Champions League win over Braga on October 23. His Premiership club want him to be out for four weeks.
He has scored 12 goals in 37 internationals, most recently in the 1-0 friendly win over France in Paris last month.
Zaccheroni called up 13 Europe-based stars including such regulars as Honda, Inter Milan defender Yuto Nagatomo and Stuttgart striker Shinji Okazaki for the November 14 match.
Okazaki is coming back to international duty after a foot injury forced him out of Japan’s European tour last month, in which they upset 1998 World Cup winners France but bowed 4-0 to five-time champions Brazil in Wroclaw, Poland.
Zaccheroni also called up Takashi Usami, on loan to Hoffenheim from Bayern Munich, for the first time since June last year.
But Wigan Athletic striker Ryo Miyaichi, who played the final few minutes against Brazil and is recovering from a groin injury, failed to make the squad.
In World Cup qualifying, Japan are leading Asian Group B with 10 points from three wins over Oman, Jordan and Iraq and a draw with Australia.
Japan beat Oman 3-0 at home in June. Oman and Australia are level on five points with Jordan trailing them on four points and Iraq on two.
“Oman are one of the more organised and balanced teams in the group,” Zaccheroni said, recalling that they “sat back and defended” against Japan in their last encounter.
“But they will come at us this time. We have to be very focused,” he added, warning that Paul Le Guen’s squad are armed with “highly accurate counter-attacks.”
Goalkeepers: Eiji Kawashima (Standard Liege/BEL), Shusaku Nishikawa (Sanfrecce Hiroshima), Shuichi Gonda (FC Tokyo)
Defenders: Yuichi Komano (Jubilo Iwata), Yasuyuki Konno (Gamba Osaka) Yuzo Kurihara (Yokohama Marinos), Masahiko Inoha (Vissel Kobe), Yuto Nagatomo (Inter Milan/ITA), Atsuto Uchida (Schalke/GER), Maya Yoshida (Southampton/ENG), Hiroki Sakai (Hannover/GER)
Midfielders: Yasuhito Endo (Gamba Osaka), Kengo Nakamura (Kawasaki Frontale), Makoto Hasebe (Wolfsburg/GER), Hajime Hosogai (Bayer Leverkusen/BER), Keisuke Honda (CSKA Moscow/RUS), Hideto Takahashi (FC Tokyo)
Forwards: Ryoichi Maeda (Jubilo Iwata), Shinji Okazaki (Stuttgart/GER), Mike Havenaar (Vitesse Arnhem/NED), Takashi Inui (Eintracht Frankfurt/GER), Hiroshi Kiyotake (Nuremberg/GER), Takashi Usami (Hoffenheim/GER)