By Jack Tarrant
TOKYO (Reuters) – New Japan head coach Akira Nishino has named a 27-man squad filled with trusted stalwarts for this month’s World Cup warm-up against Ghana on Friday.
Galatasaray defender Yuto Nagamoto, Borussia Dortmund midfielder Shinji Kagawa and well-traveled playmaker Keisuke Honda are all included in a vastly experienced squad with an average age of 28 and no uncapped players.
The May 30 match in Yokohama will be Nishino’s first fixture in charge of Samurai Blue and his only chance to run his eye over the players before naming a final 23-man squad for the June-July World Cup in Russia.
The coach took over in mid-April following Vahid Halilhodzic’s surprise dismissal.
Nishino was keen to stress that many of his players were not expected to reach their peak until they open their World Cup Group H campaign against Colombia in Saransk.
“I have predicted and chosen the players who would be in the best condition for the start of the World Cup on June 19,” Nishino said at a news conference in Tokyo.
“In this situation, we have to look after the team and the players as well as use my imagination about how the team is going to look then (at the World Cup).”
Two of Japan’s most famous exports, Kagawa and Honda, have been named despite lingering doubts over their form and fitness.
“Their play is, as everybody knows, truly indispensable to our team,” Nishino said of the two creative midfielders.
“Their top performances are representative of what we have built as a team, making them central players for us.”
The pair are among seven players in the squad with more than 80 international caps.
Long-time captain Motoko Hasebe has been retained in the role as a further indication of Nishino’s desire to maintain continuity and preserve a core group of seasoned players.
Hasebe, who has been capped 108 times, will be appearing at his third World Cup if named in the final 23 and is one of 12 players in this squad who featured in Brazil four years ago.
Nishino will trim four players after the Ghana friendly to meet FIFA’s June 4 deadline for the final squads. Japan also take on Switzerland and Paraguay in pre-World Cup friendlies in early June.
Poland and Senegal are the other teams in their group in Russia.
(Reporting by Jack Tarrant; Editing by Ian Ransom)