Soccer-Okubo handed World Cup recall by daring Japan


* Okubo's last cap was two years ago

* 31-year-old was J.League top scorer last term

* Zaccheroni confident of achieveing "great things" (Adds quotes, details, byline)

By Hyun Oh

May 12 (Reuters) - Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni sprang a rare selection surprise by recalling Kawasaki Frontale forward Yoshito Okubo to his attack-minded 23-man World Cup squad after a two-year absence on Monday.

The 31-year-old has been in top form since joining the club in 2013, scoring eight times this season after being the lead marksman in the J.League last term but Zaccheroni continually overlooked him during qualification for the Brazil finals.

The stocky striker had featured only once during the Italian's four years in charge, a 45 minute outing in a 2012 friendly win over Iceland, despite playing all four matches at the last World Cup in South Africa under previous coach Takeshi Okada.

"He's got experience, personality and a nose for the goal, and I know he was a fantastic player. What I had to do was get the other players up to speed," the Italian told reporters when asked why he had excluded the nimble forward previously.

"When you talk about Okubo, he's got experience and quality and while he maybe over 30, he hasn't shown signs of slowing down physically. He is also unpredictable. Opponents can't read him.

"When I first took the job, he was being slowed by injuries but his performance the last year and a half has been brilliant. I just want him to play to his strengths."

The former VfL Wolfsburg and Real Mallorca forward will vie with German-based Yuya Osako and Cerezo Osaka's Yoichiro Kakitani for the starting berth in Group C clashes against Ivory Coast, Colombia and Greece when the tournament begins on June 12.


Yohei Toyoda, who has scored seven times for Sagan Tosu this season, was the man to miss out, despite being tipped by some Japanese media to start in Brazil.

Sanfrecce Hiroshima midfielder Toshihiro Aoyama was another surprise inclusion in the Asian champions squad with Zaccheroni opting to ditch Hertha Berlin's Hajime Hosogai, who had been a regular under the Italian.

Captain Makoto Hasebe was named in the 23 after returning to action for FC Nuremberg on the weekend after a lengthy knee injury, as were defenders Atsuto Uchida and Maya Yoshida who were also fitness concerns.

The relatively settled squad featured 12 overseas-based players including AC Milan playmaker Keisuke Honda, Inter Milan fullback Yuto Nagatomo and Manchester United's Shinji Kagawa.

Japan have targeted a first World Cup quarter-final appearance and former Juventus and AC Milan boss Zaccheroni was confident, providing his squad were fit enough, to pull of his high-tempo game plan in hot and humid Brazil.

"I've got a great team on my hands and I think we can achieve great things," he said.

"I knew of my 23 a long time ago, but I wanted to take every minute that was available to me to think things over.

"I was debating whether to take another defensive midfielder but if I did that, I'd have to drop a forward or a defender, which is something I really didn't want to do because I want to take as many attack-minded players as possible."

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Goalkeepers: Eiji Kawashima (Standard Liege), Shusaku Nishikawa (Urawa Reds), Shuichi Gonda (FC Tokyo)

Defenders: Masato Morishige (FC Tokyo), Yasuyuki Konno (Gamba Osaka), Yuto Nagatomo (Inter Milan), Maya Yoshida (Southampton), Masahiko Inoha (Jubilo Iwata), Atsuto Uchida (Schalke 04), Hiroki Sakai (Hannover 96), Gotoku Sakai (VfB Stuttgart)

Midfielders: Yasuhito Endo (Gamba Osaka), Keisuke Honda (AC Milan), Shinji Kagawa (Manchester United), Makoto Hasebe (FC Nuremberg), Hiroshi Kiyotake (FC Nuremberg), Hotaru Yamaguchi (Cerezo Osaka), Toshihiro Aoyama (Sanfrecce Hiroshima), Manabu Saito (Yokohama F. Marinos).

Forwards: Shinji Okazaki (Mainz), Yoichiro Kakitani (Cerezo Osaka), Yuya Osako (TSV Munich 1860), Yoshito Okubo (Kawasaki Frontale) (Writing by Patrick Johnston; Editing by John O'Brien)

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