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May 23, 2013

Honda and Nagatoma return for Japan

Keisuke Honda and Yuto Nagatoma have returned to the Japan squad to face Australia on June 4 after recovering from injury.

Knee injuries forced both players to miss the 2-1 defeat to Jordan in March but victory against the Socceroos in Saitama would secure a fifth consecutive World Cup finals appearance for Alberto Zaccheroni's side, who have a six-point advantage in their qualifying group with two games to play.

"The moment of truth has come for my team," Zaccheroni told Japanese reporters. "We are a step away from qualifying for the World Cup. I don't want to start calculating how many points we need and what not, but just focus on winning these two games before us."

Honda's chances of being involved against Australia are uncertain due to his likely participation for CSKA Moscow in the Russian cup final, meaning he will only link up with the squad the day before the game.

Stuttgart duo Shinji Okazaki and Gotoku Sakai will also arrive late due to club commitments in the German Cup and Zaccheroni may opt to rotate his team as a consequence.

"It'll be interesting to see what kind of shape they'll be in as they all arrive on different days," the manager said.

"Honda is getting better but he's not 100%. I'll ask the players coming back from Europe to take it easy for the first, two three days."

Striker Masato Kudo and midfielder Keigo Higashi have all been handed their first chance to impress on the international stage as Zaccheroni assesses his options.

Higashi reached the Olympic semi-finals at London 2012 while Kudo impressed by scoring 13 goals in the J-League and Asian Champions League this season.

"What I can say about these two is that they are good utility players who can fill a number of positions and are constantly improving," Zaccheroni said. "They are especially impressive when they get forward.

"But I want to make it clear that one call-up does not guarantee your place in the squad. You need to perform consistently at a high level, and let me remind everyone that I have picked new players before who have not made it back."

Japan squad:

Goalkeepers: Eiji Kawashima (Standard Liege), Shusaku Nishikawa (Sanfrecce Hiroshima), Shuichi Gonda (FC Tokyo).

Defenders: Yuichi Komano (Jubilo Iwata), Masahiko Inoha (Jubilo Iwata), Yasuyuki Konno (Gamba Osaka), Yuzo Kurihara (Yokohama F Marinos), Yuto Nagatomo (Inter Milan), Atsuto Uchida (Schalke), Maya Yoshida (Southampton), Hiroki Sakai (Hannover), Gotoku Sakai (Stuttgart).

Midfielders: Yasuhito Endo (Gamba), Kengo Nakamura (Kawasaki Frontale), Makoto Hasebe (Wolfsburg), Hajime Hosogai (Hertha Berlin), Keisuke Honda (CSKA Moscow), Hideto Takahashi (Tokyo).

Forwards: Ryoichi Maeda (Jubilo), Shinji Okazaki (Stuttgart), Mike Havenaar (Vitesse Arnhem), Takashi Inui (Eintracht Frankfurt), Shinji Kagawa (Manchester United), Hiroshi Kiyotake (Nuremburg), Masato Kudo (Kashiwa Reysol), Keigo Higashi (FC Tokyo).

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