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Honda eyes Melbourne move, Olympics place

Melbourne Victory
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Wenger could play advisory role for Japan FA

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 By John Duerden

Keisuke Honda, Shinji Kagawa, Shinji Okazaki dropped by Japan

Japan qualified for their sixth straight World Cup following their 2-0 win over Australia.

Coach Vahid Halilhodzic has told his biggest stars that reputations count for nothing as competition for places in Japan's 2018 World Cup squad heats up.

Halilhodzic has named his 25-man squad for high-profile World Cup friendlies Brazil and Belgium later this month.

There was no place for Leicester City's Shinji Okazaki, Shinji Kagawa of Borussia Dortmund and Keisuke Honda, formerly of AC Milan, who now plays for Pachuca in Mexico.

"The names are not relevant when it comes to playing for Japan," Halilhodzic said at a media conference in Tokyo.

"This is about competition. I want to test those players who are in good form. I have said from day one when I arrived that each player has to fight for his place, regardless of who they are."

Halilhodzic, who took Algeria to the knockout stage of the 2014 World Cup, was more conservative in defence.

Japan midfielder Keisuke Honda
Keisuke Honda moved from AC Milan to Pachuca in Mexico in July in search of more game time.

Yuto Nagatomo, of Inter Milan, and Southampton's central defender Maya Yoshida have been summoned, as has captain Makoto Hasebe of Eintracht Frankfurt in midfield.

Japan, playing in Europe for the first time in four years, take on Brazil in the French city of Lille on Nov. 10, before moving to Bruges to meet Belgium five days later.

"We do not often get the chance to play against such quality teams as these," Halilhodzic added. "This will be a great test for us."

"We are determined to show what we can do. We are not going there as tourists."

Urawa Reds midfielder Kazuki Nagasawa is not only looking forward to a first international appearance, but the midfielder is one of five players from the Saitama side selected in the squad.

The quintet will be in action in the first leg of the 2017 AFC Champions League final against Al Hilal in Saudi Arabia on Nov. 18.

Asian expert John Duerden is the author of Lions and Tigers: Story of Football in Singapore and Malaysia.Twitter: @JohnnyDuerden.

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