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HOME > SAMURAI BLUE > ASIAN QUALIFIERS - ROAD TO RUSSIA [3/23] TOP > NEWS > 25 players including Takahagi, Konno named for SAMURAI BLUE squad for World Cup final qualifiers in March


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25 players including Takahagi, Konno named for SAMURAI BLUE squad for World Cup final qualifiers in March

17 March 2017

25 players including Takahagi, Konno named for SAMURAI BLUE squad for World Cup final qualifiers in March

On Thursday 16 March, Vahid HALILHODZIC, coach of SAMURAI BLUE (Japan National Team), announced his roster for the upcoming two matches against UAE and Thailand as part of the resuming 2018 FIFA World Cup Final Asian Qualifiers later this month. Including midfielders TAKAHAGI Yojiro (F.C.Tokyo) and KONNO Yasuyuki (Gamba Osaka), the 25-man squad will face United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Thursday 23 in Al Ain and Thailand on Tuesday 28 at Saitama Stadium 2002.

Takahagi, who comes back to the national team for the first time since the EAFF East Asian Cup 2013 and under the reign of Halilhodzic, Konno, who has been away from the team since March, 2015 and also midfielder KURATA Shu (Gamba Osaka) rejoin the squad listing familiar faces such as midfielders HASEBE Makoto (Eintracht Frankfurt) and KAGAWA Shinji (Borussia Dortmund) and forward HONDA Keisuke (AC Milan) as well.

In addition, the national team welcomes forwards KUBO Yuya who scored five goals in three matches following his transfer to KAA Gent in Belgium, USAMI Takashi (FC Augsburg) who Halilhodzic considers as a player who “can singlehandedly make a difference” and HARAGUCHI Genki (Hertha BSC Berlin) who is on his four-match streak of scoring for the national team.

Goalkeeper HIGASHIGUCHI Masaaki, contrarily, was not invited due to the injury he suffered in a recent J.League match.

Halilhodzic spoke of the UAE clash to be held in Al Ain, “we are expected to play with big pressure in a unique environment. We also need to stay patient without being provoked by the opponents.” “Mental toughness and experience are important,” he also said of the reason for selecting Takahagi, former FC Seoul player, with rich experience of playing outside of Japan in Asia and Konno having 87 caps under his belt as well as Honda and defender NAGATOMO Yuto who have not appeared in many matches recently with their own club.

n the last match against UAE, the first fixture of the ongoing final qualifiers held in September last year, Japan recorded a 2-1 loss at home. According to Halilhodzic, however, the players “don’t forget about the match” and the coach himself regards this rematch as “a good opportunity for payback.” “We have to keep playing to win and to qualify for the World Cup.”

In order to qualify automatically, teams need to finish at either one of the top two places in the 6-team group. The third-placed team will move on to playing against the same-ranked team of the other group and on to the playoff against the CONCACAF for the last remaining spot. Currently Japan with three wins, one loss, one draw and the total 10 points are standing at the second place in Group B, trailing Saudi Arabia who are leading only on the goal difference. However, both Australia, at third, and the UAE, at fourth, are with nine points, illustrating the neck-and-neck race where places can be shuffled very easily with the results of this matchday.

“We have to show everything we have, never lose our poise and play without fear,” added Halilhodzic.

On Sunday 19 March, the squad begin preparation in Al Ain for the UAE match on Thursday 23.


Vahid HALILHODZIC, Coach, SAMURAI BLUE (Japan National Team)
We have gotten into the final stretch toward the 2018 FIFA World Cup. It’s a very difficult road ahead, but it’s same for our opponents as well. At the beginning of the final qualifying round, we got into the tough situation, but now we are standing at a favourable place. At this point, I think four teams have a chance to advance to the World Cup, and we have important matches coming up. First, we want to beat UAE at their home and take it to the successful result.

The first of the next two matches, against UAE, is not an easy one. The stadium in Al Ain is a bit small, and we are expected to play with a big pressure in a unique environment. There may be very physical battles. We also need to stay patient without being provoked by the opponents. I hope referees will blow fair and right whistles. It’s a very difficult match, but it doesn’t mean it’s impossible for us to win. Thailand that we face in the second match are an ever-developing team. It will have a different kind of difficulty and it won’t be easy, either.

As for selecting the squad this time, we prioritise experience. As we invited 25 players including three goalkeepers, it’s more than the norm because we take details of the matches, injuries, sickness and the fact that we will employ different tactics for those two matches into consideration. When I select who gets to play, I will watch their practice and want to make best decisions possible.

I want my players to focus on the matches in front of us and go out for them with bold decisiveness. My players don’t forget about the first match of this final qualifying round where we played against them last time, and this is a good opportunity for payback. If we can play through with confidence and decisiveness, the feeling toward the UAE match will change to a more favourable one. We as national team players have to keep playing to win and to qualify for the World Cup as we take advantage of our strength. On my mind, I am already ready for the next match. Now I will communicate it with my players and I want them to go out for it with decisiveness and strong determination.

NISHINO Akira, Technical Director of JFA Technical Committee
After the long interval since last November, the team start the second half of the final qualifying round from Thursday 23 this month. Now there are four teams including Japan standing within just one point. I am convinced that the UAE match on Thursday 23 and the Thailand match on Tuesday 28 will be an important turning point for us to win through this series. Most likely every team has made corrections during this interval, and we must be hard not only on our opponents but also on ourselves. I expect having new players will improve the overall strength of this team, and I hope they will show our brand of strong teamwork and a kind of performance that proves our high level of collectiveness in Asia.


2017-3-23 (Thu.) Local Time 19:30 (Japan Time 24:30) kick off (estimated time)
Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium
UAE National Team vs SAMURAI BLUE (Japan National Team)
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2017-3-28 (Tue.) 19:35 kick off (estimated time)
Saitama Stadium 2002
SAMURAI BLUE (Japan National Team) vs Thailand National Team
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