TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan captain Makoto Hasebe has withdrawn from the team’s final World Cup qualifier against Saudi Arabia in Jeddah on Tuesday, the Japan Football Association said.
Hasebe returned to coach Vahid Halilhodzic’s starting line-up on Thursday for the first time since undergoing knee surgery in March, and celebrated a 2-0 win over Australia that sealed Japan’s qualification for the tournament in Russia next year.
The skipper has been joined on the absentee list by Borussia Dortmund midfielder Shinji Kagawa, who was an unused substitute in Thursday’s match at Saitama Stadium.
Having sewn up top spot in Group B of Asian qualifying, Japan can afford to ease off against the second-placed Saudis.
However, with only the top two teams able to qualify for Russia directly, third-placed Australia will hope the Samurai Blue can emerge with a win or hold the Saudis to a draw.
Australia, who are level with Saudi Arabia on 16 points but two in arrears on goal difference, host Thailand in Melbourne on Tuesday in their last qualifier.
With Australia’s match scheduled first, Saudi Arabia will know exactly what they need to do to snatch the second direct ticket to Russia against Japan.
The group’s third placed team must negotiate a series of playoffs to qualify.
Reporting by Michael Church in Hong Kong; Editing by Ian Ransom