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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 June 2018

Keisuke Honda and former Manchester United star Shinji Kagawa likely to make Japan's 2018 World Cup squad

Both players, at loggerheads with former manager Vahid Halilhodzic, included by successor Akira Nishino for friendly against Ghana

Keisuke Honda was unhappy during the tenure of previous manager Vahid Halilhodzic. Shuji Kajiyama / AP Photo
Keisuke Honda was unhappy during the tenure of previous manager Vahid Halilhodzic. Shuji Kajiyama / AP Photo

New Japan manager Akira Nishino flagged his World Cup intentions on Friday by turning to his big hitters for the home friendly with Ghana on May 30.

Japan forward Keisuke Honda and playmaker Shinji Kagawa - both thought to have been at loggerheads with dismissed manager Vahid Halilhodzic - were included by Nishino among a group of 27 players.

Nishino, who took over from the Franco-Bosnian after the latter's abrupt firing last month, is scheduled to name his final 23-man World Cup squad on May 31.

"Of course I expect to pick the World Cup squad from these 27 players," Nishino said. "Honda and Kagawa have been core players of the national team and I've called them up in the hope that they will be able to contribute."

Honda and Kagawa had both become more peripheral under Halilhodzic, but Nishino called up 17 overseas-based players to face Ghana in Yokohama in Japan's final home World Cup warm-up.

Though Kagawa has been struggling with an ankle injury, Nishino wants to give the Borussia Dortmund player every chance to make the plane to Russia.

"Kagawa requires truly delicate thinking," Nishino said. "We have high hopes for him, and want to make a final decision during this training camp. Without doubt he is a player who can't be replaced."

Manager Akira Nishino wants to play safe so few weeks before the World Cup gets under way. Eugene Hoshiko / AP Photo
Manager Akira Nishino wants to play safe so few weeks before the World Cup gets under way. Eugene Hoshiko / AP Photo

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Leicester City striker Shinji Okazaki and Galatasaray full-back Yuto Nagatomo, who have both won over 100 caps, were also among those selected.

Japan have been drawn alongside Colombia, Poland and Senegal in Group H at the World Cup.

Honda, playing for Mexico's Pachuca, put the boot into Halilhodzic's methods when he recently told Japanese television: "To submit myself to the kind of football Halilhodzic played would be shameful for me."

Honda's goals helped Japan reach the last 16 of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, but they crashed out of the 2014 Brazil tournament at the group stage.

Borussia Dortmund's Shinji Kagawa, right, could still make a comeback in time for the World Cup. Rodrigo Jimenez / EPA
Borussia Dortmund's Shinji Kagawa, right, could still make a comeback in time for the World Cup. Rodrigo Jimenez / EPA