TOKYO (AFP, REUTERS) - Japan dropped former Manchester United star Shinji Kagawa from the Samurai Blue's bid to reclaim the Asian Cup, opting instead for a squad filled with young Europe-based talents.
Coach Hajime Moriyasu on Wednesday (Dec 12) selected several players with only a handful of caps for Asia's showcase football tournament in the United Arab Emirates starting in January.
The likes of Ritsu Doan of Groningen, Shoya Nakajima of Portimonense and Takumi Minamino of Salzburg will lead Japan's bid for a record-extending fifth title.
But there was no place for midfielder Kagawa, 29, now struggling for playing time at Borussia Dortmund.
Leicester striker Shinji Okazaki was also omitted but Southampton centre-back Maya Yoshida has been picked.
Kagawa has long been among the leading stars of Blue Samurai and at his German outfit, but the attacking player has found himself unable to get regular first-team football under Dortmund coach Lucien Favre.
He told the Japanese media last month that he wished to move to Spain to take on a new challenge.
Moriyasu suggested he had been tempted to turn to veterans like Kagawa, but said he needed to pick players in their best form.
"Of course, I wanted help from experienced players, those who went to the Russian World Cup and those who have led Japan for years," he told a press conference.
"Many of the players whom we selected at this time have only limited experiences. I have chosen them with hopes that they would take the ownership of the team and build the national team themselves and fight for the title," he said.
The 32-year-old Okazaki is Japan's third-highest scorer but has failed to find the net for either club or country in a year .
However, the young squad will be supported by Werder Bremen striker Yuya Osako and Galatasaray defender Yuto Nagatomo, both veterans of past World Cups.
Japan won the Asian Cup in 1992, 2000, 2004 and 2011, but failed in the last edition, won by Australia in 2015.
"Japan's national team did not win the title last time. We will reclaim the Asian Cup and bring back the title," Moriyasu said.
The Asian Cup, which has been expanded to include 24 teams, will be held from Jan 5 to Feb 1. Japan, who have been drawn in Group F, kick off their campaign against Turkmenistan on Jan 9. Oman and Uzbekistan are the other teams in the group.