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Soccer: Honda, Kagawa, Okazaki named in Japan's 23-man World Cup squad

Japanese men's national soccer coach Akira Nishino is seen on his way to a press conference to announce Japanese squad members for the World Cup Russia, in Tokyo on May 31, 2018. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
Keisuke Honda (Mainichi)
Shinji Kagawa (Mainichi)
Shinji Okazaki (Mainichi)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Head coach Akira Nishino named Japan's 23-man World Cup squad on Thursday, picking veterans Keisuke Honda, Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki for the tournament kicking off June 14 in Russia.

The fate of the big-name trio had become the focus of fan and media speculation after their selection prospects were clouded by injury and form concerns under Nishino's predecessor Vahid Halilhodzic.

Dortmund midfielder Kagawa missed two months during the latter stages of the Bundesliga season with an ankle injury, while a similar ailment sidelined Leicester forward Okazaki for roughly six weeks.

Pachuca playmaker Honda, meanwhile, appeared to have fallen out of favor with the Bosnian-born Halilhodzic, who was sensationally fired by the Japan Football Association early last month after a run of poor results.

With his selection settled, Honda is focused on helping the Samurai Blue reach the knockout phase for the first time since the 2010 tournament in South Africa.

"I want to go into the competition calm and prepared, without wasting any energy," the 31-year-old said.

Kashima Antlers midfielder Kento Misao, Stuttgart forward Takuma Asano and Leonesa midfielder Yosuke Ideguchi were the three players dropped from the 26-man squad for Japan's final World Cup warmup on home soil, a 2-0 loss to Ghana on Wednesday.

"I have extremely high expectations for those three (in the future)," Nishino said. "Ideguchi and Asano helped us get to this stage, but I wasn't convinced they'd be able to play to the fullest of their ability (right now)."

Sanfrecce Hiroshima defensive midfielder Toshihiro Aoyama had earlier pulled out of the squad with a right knee injury.

Midfielder Shoya Nakajima was a notable omission following a standout season with Portuguese side Portimonense. The 23-year-old was not picked for the Ghana match despite a strong performance on debut for Japan in the Samurai Blue's 1-1 friendly draw with Mali in March.

Former JFA technical director Nishino, who took the reins following Halilhodzic's firing, said players from outside the original 27 had a chance of making the final 23-man squad.

In the end, however, the JFA opted to pick solely from among players selected for the Ghana match.

Nishino said he was aiming to take points from each of Japan's Group H matches -- a tough task against three strong opponents in Colombia, Senegal and Poland.

"I want to take points from one game at a time and advance past the group stage," the 63-year-old said.

Japan will open its World Cup campaign against Colombia in the city of Saransk on June 19. The Samurai Blue will then face Senegal in Yekaterinburg on June 24 before playing their final group match against Poland in Volgograd on June 28.

Final 23-man World Cup squad:

Goalkeepers: Eiji Kawashima (Metz); Masaaki Higashiguchi (Gamba Osaka); Kosuke Nakamura (Kashiwa Reysol).

Defenders: Yuto Nagatomo (Galatasaray); Tomoaki Makino, Wataru Endo (Urawa Reds); Maya Yoshida (Southampton); Hiroki Sakai (Marseille); Gotoku Sakai (Hamburg); Gen Shoji, Naomichi Ueda (Kashima Antlers).

Midfielders: Makoto Hasebe (Eintracht Frankfurt); Keisuke Honda (Pachuca); Takashi Inui (Eibar); Shinji Kagawa (Dortmund); Hotaru Yamaguchi (Cerezo Osaka); Genki Haraguchi, Takashi Usami (Fortuna Dusseldorf); Gaku Shibasaki (Getafe); Ryota Oshima (Kawasaki Frontale).

Forwards: Shinji Okazaki (Leicester); Yuya Osako (Werder Bremen); Yoshinori Muto (Mainz).

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