Honda back as Japan seeks World Cup
Moscow midfielder Keisuke Honda arrived in Tokyo Monday, on the eve of Japan's crucial World Cup qualifier against Australia, in which they can qualify for a World Cup as the first team.
The Blue Samurai apparently can't wait for Honda, one of its most irreplaceable players, especially after suffering back-to-back defeats for the first time under coach Alberto Zaccheroni.
"The team is not in a good mood," captain Makoto Hasebe told reporters after a 2-0 loss to Bulgaria Thursday.
In late March, Japan conceded a painful loss to Jordan, missing an opportunity to secure their spot at the finals in Brazil. Absent were the team's two important players - Honda and Yuto Nagatomo, an Inter-Milan defender.
Honda has scored a team-high four goals to help the four-time Asian champions lead with 13 points in Asia's Group B. Jordan trail them on seven points, and Australia and Oman on six points each with Iraq at the bottom of the table on five points.
The top two from each of the two Asian groups go straight to the World Cup, and the third-placed teams qualify for play-offs.
A draw with the Socceroos at home will make Japan the first team to qualify for Brazil 2014, just as they were first to make it for 2006 and 2010.
Honda did not see any problems with his thigh and was ready to help Japan secure the spot, he told a news conference in Moscow,after the Russian Premier League champions CSKA completed a double by winning the Russian cup final on Saturday.
Honda played 67 minutes on Saturday as CSKA beat Anzhi Makhachkala on penalties for the domestic double.
"I have got that far and I don't think there will be any reoccurrence of the pain I have been feeling (in the thigh)," Honda was quoted by Kyodo as saying.
"It is up to the coach (whether he will play) but hopefully I can prepare well for the match. I really want to win," he said.
The 26-man squad for the match against Australia includes 14 Europe-based stars such as Manchester United attacker Shinji Kagawa,Stuttgart forward Shinji Okazaki an Eiji Kawashima, a Standard Liege goalkeeper.
"We all know how high the expectations of our fans here at home will be and we have a responsibility to respond to those expectations," Kawashima said.
"I think that he (Honda) can come back in a good mood because he won the cup. Everybody on the pitch will try to do their best but obviously he is a very important player in our team," he said.