Honda, Kagawa selected in Japan’s World Cup squad

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TOKYO (AP) - Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni announced his 23-man World Cup squad on Monday, picking AC Milan’s Keisuke Honda among 12 Europe-based players and adding a surprise with the selection of veteran striker Yoshito Okubo.

As expected, Honda was named along with Manchester United midfielder Shinji Kagawa and Mainz forward Shinji Okazaki. Honda has scored just one goal since joining Milan from CSKA Moscow in January but played a key role in Japan’s qualifying campaign.

“In the end, we decided to go with players who will be aggressive on the attack,” Zaccheroni said. “We felt these members give us the best chance to play our brand of football.”

Okubo was one of the few surprises in the squad Zaccheroni unveiled at a news conference Monday.

The 31-year-old Okubo, last season’s top scorer in the J-League, made the squad despite having only been called up once by Zaccheroni since the Italian took over from 2010 World Cup coach Takeshi Okada.

His eight goals this season for Kawasaki Frontale made it difficult for Zaccheroni to leave him off the squad.

“I know there is the opinion I haven’t used (Okubo) much,” Zaccheroni said. “But he has a lot of experience and knows how to score goals. He will be a valuable player for us.”

Forward Yoichiro Kakitani, who scored 21 goals in 34 games last season but has only one goal in 12 games for Cerezo Osaka this season, was among 11 J-League players included in the squad.

Japan, which co-hosted the World Cup with South Korea in 2002, is preparing for its fifth consecutive World Cup campaign and faces Ivory Coast, Greece and Colombia in Group C.

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Squad:

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

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

Midfielders: Yasuhito Endo (Gamba Osaka), Makoto Hasebe (Nuremberg), Toshihiro Aoyama (Sanfrecce Hiroshima), Hotaru Yamaguchi (Cerezo Osaka)

Forwards: Keisuke Honda (AC Milan), Yoshito Okubo (Kawasaki Frontale), Shinji Okazaki (Mainz), Shinji Kagawa (Manchester United), Hiroshi Kiyotake (Nuremberg), Yoichiro Kakitani (Cerezo Osaka), Manabu Saito (Yokohama F Marinos), Yuya Osako (1860 Munich)

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