Ground Zero as Aguirre names first Japan squad

Alastair Himmer
New Japan coach Javier Aguirre answers questions during a news conference in Tokyo on August 28, 2014
New Japan coach Javier Aguirre answers questions during a news conference in Tokyo on August 28, 2014 (AFP Photo/Kazuhiro Nogi)

Tokyo (AFP) - Japan coach Javier Aguirre declared Thursday the reigning Asian champions were "starting from zero" as he named his first squad for next month's friendlies against Uruguay and Venezuela with playmaker Shinji Kagawa the most notable absentee.

Kagawa, seemingly surplus to requirements at Manchester United and linked with Valencia and Juventus, will miss the home games on September 5 and 9 after suffering a concussion in midweek, while only 12 of Japan's World Cup flops survived the cull.

"I don't care if players have been part of the Japan set-up in the past," Aguirre told reporters. "That's not a condition for being selected. It's about quality. I have watched a lot of games and studied hours of video.

"I believe this is a competitive team with the will to win and this squad represents my best options as we start this new project. We start from zero."

Japan's World Cup captain Makoto Hasebe and midfield dynamo Keisuke Honda made the 23-man squad, along with Inter Milan defender Yuto Nagatomo, while Aguirre called up five new faces, including Japan-based strikers Yoshinori Muto and Yusuke Minagawa.

We have six matches before the Asian Cup in January," said Aguirre. "These are tests the players must pass if they want to be retained. I'm trying to build a team which will be a force at the World Cup in Russia (in 2018)."

Kagawa, injured in United's 4-0 League Cup humiliation by third-tier MK Dons earlier this week, had been pencilled in by Aguirre to face Uruguay -- who will be without controversial Barcelona striker Luis Suarez -- in Sapporo and Venezuela in Yokohama four days later.

"Shinji was on my list," said Aguirre, who backed Kagawa to bounce back from his bench-warming frustration in Manchester. "He has the ability to flourish at any top club, be it in England or Spain."

- Hungry -

Aguirre, who has a reputation as a tough disciplinarian, left the players in no doubt what was required of them.

"I want players who wear the Japan shirt with pride," said the 55-year-old, who led his native Mexico to the last 16 of the 2002 and 2010 World Cups. "I don't need players who don't run or put in the work.

"The players I have picked are hungry players," added the former Espanyol manager. "It's up to them to show me they deserve their places, or changes will be made."

Reputations certainly counted for little as midfield stalwart Yasuhito Endo, who has won a record 146 caps, was left out.

"It will not be a quick process," said Aguirre. "I want team of fighters -- not nasty, but aggressive. It's about finding the right balance."


Goalkeepers - Eiji Kawashima (Standard Liege), Shusaku Nishikawa (Urawa Reds), Akihiro Hayashi (Sagan Tosu)

Defenders - Hiroki Mizumoto (Sanfrecce Hiroshima), Yuto Nagatomo (Inter Milan), Masato Morishige (FC Tokyo), Maya Yoshida (Southampton), Hiroki Sakai (Hannover 96), Tatsuya Sakai (Sagan Tosu), Gotoku Sakai (Stuttgart), Ken Matsubara (Albirex Niigata)

Midfielders - Makoto Hasebe (Eintracht Frankfurt), Hajime Hosogai (Hertha Berlin), Junya Tanaka (Sporting Lisbon), Ryota Morioka (Vissel Kobe), Takahiro Ogihara (Cerezo Osaka), Gaku Shibasaki (Kashima Antlers)

Forwards - Shinji Okazaki (Mainz), Keisuke Honda (AC Milan), Yoichiro Kakitani (FC Basel), Yuya Osako (Cologne), Yusuke Minagawa (Sanfrecce Hiroshima), Yoshinori Muto (FC Tokyo)