Football: Okubo and Usami left out of Japan's Asian Cup squad

Gamba Osaka midfielder forward Takashi Usami (centre) shoots among Montedio Yamagata defender Hidenori Ishii (left) and goalkeeper Norihiro Yamagishi (right) during their Emperor's Cup final football match in Yokohama on Dec 13, 2014. J-League t
Gamba Osaka midfielder forward Takashi Usami (centre) shoots among Montedio Yamagata defender Hidenori Ishii (left) and goalkeeper Norihiro Yamagishi (right) during their Emperor's Cup final football match in Yokohama on Dec 13, 2014. J-League top scorer Yoshito Okubo and in-form Gamba Osaka forward Takashi Usami were the biggest casualties when Javier Aguirre named his 23-man Japan squad for their Asian Cup title defence on Monday. -- PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (REUTERS) - J-League top scorer Yoshito Okubo and in-form Gamba Osaka forward Takashi Usami were the biggest casualties when Javier Aguirre named his 23-man Japan squad for their Asian Cup title defence on Monday.

The duo were in good form over the closing weeks as uncapped Usami scored twice in the Emperor's Cup final on Saturday to complete the domestic treble, while Okubo fired 18 goals for Kawasaki Frontale to finish top scorer in the J-League for a second consecutive year.

The Mexican had named both players in a 50-man provisional squad earlier this month for the Jan 9-31 tournament in Australia, but that was a first show of faith since he took charge in August.

Aguirre opted for Okubo's club team-mate Yu Kobayashi, Sagan Tosu's Yohei Toyoda and FC Tokyo's Yoshinori Muto among his forwards despite the trio notching only two goals between them in their fledgling international careers.

AC Milan playmaker Keisuke Honda and Shinji Okazaki will be expected to provide the bulk of the fire-power in Australia, where the Blue Samurai open with Group D clashes against Palestine, Iraq and Jordan.

Yasuhito Endo, Japan's record caps winner and J-League Most Valuable Player after skippering Gamba to a first treble, was named among the midfielders, along with Germany-based duo Shinji Kagawa and Makoto Hasebe, who has been plagued with knee trouble.

They were three of 14 players who disappointed in the group-stage World Cup exit in mid-year who were given a chance of redemption in Australia, where Japan will go in search of a record extending fifth title.

Talented Hannover midfielder Hiroshi Kiyotake was also selected in the 23 despite not previously playing under Aguirre. "Players being able to play in more than one position was the criteria for selecting the squad," he told reporters on Monday.

"I have picked this squad based on quality not age. I knew all about the players that have experience before I came to Japan.

"I wanted to take a close look at the players that don't have much experience, and those players that are in the squad have earned their positions.

"I did not pick Kiyotake for my first six games, but I have been following him all the time. He can play in more than one position, is playing regularly in a difficult league and I thought he deserved to be picked for the national team."

Squad

Goalkeepers: Eiji Kawashima (Standard Liege), Masaaki Higashiguchi (Gamba Osaka), Shusaku Nishikawa (Urawa Reds).

Defenders: Yuto Nagatomo (Inter Milan), Masato Morishige (FC Tokyo), Kosuke Ota (Tokyo), Atsuto Uchida (Schalke), Maya Yoshida (Southampton), Tsukasa Shiotani (Sanfrecce Hiroshima), Gotoku Sakai (Stuttgart), Gen Shoji (Kashima Antlers).

Midfielders: Yasuhito Endo (Gamba Osaka), Yasuyuki Konno (Gamba), Makoto Hasebe (Eintracht Frankfurt), Shinji Kagawa (Dortmund), Hiroshi Kiyotake (Hannover), Gaku Shibasaki (Kashima).

Forwards: Yohei Toyoda (Sagan Tosu), Shinji Okazaki (Mainz), Keisuke Honda (AC Milan), Yu Kobayashi (Kawasaki Frontale), Takashi Inui (Frankfurt), Yoshinori Muto (Tokyo).