18:59 20 March 2017
Soccer: Japan strong enough even without captain Hasebe: Kagawa
By Gus Fielding
AL AIN, United Arab Emirates, March 20, Kyodo
Borussia Dortmund midfielder Shinji Kagawa believes Japan have enough strength in depth to cover for Makoto Hasebe if the national team captain is forced, as expected, to sit out Thursday's World Cup qualifier away to the United Arab Emirates.
Hasebe arrived in UAE on Sunday, but with knee surgery looming, the Eintracht Frankfurt midfielder looks almost certain to be sidelined for the crucial Group B clash in Al Ain.
"The situation with Hase-san (Hasebe) is really unfortunate but we still have to get the job done," said Kagawa. "Whoever comes in can definitely bring something different."
"They have to prove that they can fill the void and get themselves ready for the game."
Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic has named an experienced squad for Thursday's game and next week's home qualifier against Thailand and has provided Yasuyuki Konno with the opportunity to resurrect his international career.
Capped 87 times for Japan, the Gamba Osaka utility man, back in the national team fold after a two-year absence, is a potential replacement for Hasebe in holding midfield.
"He (Konno) has plenty of national team experience," said Kagawa. "He has been away for a while but I am sure he can still get the job done regardless."
Kagawa, like Leicester City striker Shinji Okazaki and AC Milan attacker Keisuke Honda, was left out of the starting lineup for Japan's last qualifier, a 2-1 win at home to Saudi Arabia.
But, unlike Honda, the former Manchester United man has been getting minutes under his belt at Dortmund recently and put in full shifts in the Bundesliga club's last three games in all competitions.
"Even when I was not playing I prepared myself well so was able to go into the matches in decent shape," said Kagawa. "But it was only three games. There will be matches when I return to Germany so I have to do well here with the national team."
"I don't have any problem with my condition. The weather is really hot and it is a long journey out here and I want to get myself well prepared. The heat is not something you can easily acclimatize to. It takes a bit of time."
Japan, stunned by UAE 2-1 at home in their first match of the final round of qualifiers last September, have 10 points from five games in Group B and are behind Saudi Arabia only on goal difference.
But only one point separates the top four sides and a defeat to UAE (9) coupled with wins for Australia (9) against Iraq (3) and Saudi Arabia against Thailand (1) would see Japan drop out of the two automatic qualification spots and the third playoff place, putting renewed pressure on Halilhodzic.
Japan face Thailand on March 28 in Saitama. Although Japan beat Thailand 2-0 away, the Group B outsiders showed they are capable of pulling off an upset by holding reigning Asian champions Australia to a 2-2 draw in the last round of matches.
"There is no doubt that we have to win against UAE," said Kagawa. "These next two games are massively important for us. We got off to a really bad start in losing that first game (to UAE)."
"Now the second half of the final qualifying round begins and hopefully we can get off on the right foot this time. It is going to be a really tough game. We all have to understand that and try and express ourselves and win the game."