TOKYO (Reuters) - Long-standing Japan goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima has been left our of the Samurai Blue squad for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Cambodia and Afghanistan after failing to secure a club contract.
Kawashima, 32, who has won more than 70 caps for his country and been a mainstay of the national team for several years, left Belgian side Standard Liege last month after losing his place in the side but has yet to find a club.
Vegalta Sendai’s uncapped stopper Yuji Rokutan and Masaaki Higashiguchi, who made his international debut in the East Asian Cup against China last month, will compete with Shusaku Nishikawa for the starting berth at home to Cambodia on Sept. 3.
“He has been the first-choice Japan goalkeeper for the past four or five years and I am a bit surprised that he hasn’t found a club in Europe yet,” Japan boss Vahid Halilhodzic told reporters on Thursday.
“I hope he can keep going and find a new club quickly.
“There aren’t many players that can replace Kawashima but the three players I have picked have done well and there is no problem with them being on this list. I want them to seize their chance and show confidence.”
After the match in Saitama, Japan will face Afghanistan five days later in the central Asian’s nominated venue of Iran, because of the security issues at home.
Four-times Asian champions Japan should win comfortably against both sides but will be wary of anymore slip-ups having been held to a goalless draw by lowly Singapore at home in their opening Group E match in June.
“We don’t want to make excuses a second time. We have to score and produce a performance that we can all be satisfied with,” said the former Algeria boss, who has not won in four matches.
“I have big hopes for the Cambodia match and hopefully the players will be fired up and win. Then I want them to win the away game too. After that I will be able to sleep better.”
Syria are the other team in the group, where only the top side is guaranteed a spot in the next round of World Cup qualifiers for Russia 2018 and a place at the 2019 Asian Cup.
Goalkeepers - Shusaku Nishikawa (Urawa Reds), Masaaki Higashiguchi (Gamba Osaka), Yuji Rokutan (Vegalta Sendai)
Defenders - Maya Yoshida (Southampton), Daiki Niwa (Gamba Osaka), Tomoaki Makino (Urawa Reds), Hiroki Sakai (Hanover 96, Germany), Gotoku Sakai (VfB Stuttgart), Koki Yonekura (Gamba Osaka), Yuto Nagatomo (Inter Milan)
Midfielders - Makoto Hasebe (Eintracht Frankfurt), Hotaru Yamaguchi (Cerezo Osaka), Wataru Endo (Bellmare), Gaku Shibasaki (Kashima Antlers), Genki Haraguchi (Hertha Berlin), Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund)
Forwards - Keisuke Honda (AC Milan), Kensuke Nagai (Nagoya Grampus), Takashi Usami (Gamba Osaka), Yoshinori Muto (Mainz 05), Shiji Okazaki (Leicester City)
Writing by Patrick Johnston in Singapore; Editing by John O'Brien