TOKYO - Japan coach Takeshi Okada has recalled Celtic midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura in a strong squad for the home World Cup qualifier with Australia on February 11.
Brazilian-born defender Tulio also returns after a knee operation for the Yokohama clash against the Socceroos, who top Group One in the final round of Asian 2010 qualifiers.
Nakamura is expected to start, despite struggling with a groin strain, along with four other Europe-based players.
"It's a massive game against Australia," Japan's playmaker told Saturday's Japanese media. "We have to win it to avoid them opening a gap on us."
"Australia (29th) are above Japan (34th) in the FIFA rankings, they have more ability. We'll go in as the underdogs and have to throw everything at them."
Tulio's absence in the centre of defence would be a blow against a physical Australia side but the towering Urawa Reds player is likely to play, despite being less than fully fit.
"He's not at 100 percent but I reckon he can play," said Okada. "He's on a training programme to make sure he's ready for Australia."
SET PIECE DANGER
Okada noted Australia's past ability to cause panic in Japan's defence at corners and free kicks.
"We desperately want to avoid giving away goals at set pieces," said the 52-year-old. "We don't want to get done by Australia like that. That's where we need to improve."
Japan take on Finland in a warm-up in Tokyo on Wednesday in preparation for the Australia game.
The teams have become fierce rivals since Australia beat Japan 3-1 at the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Japan gained revenge by knocking Australia out of the Asian Cup the following year.
Saint Etienne midfielder Daisuke Matsui, Eintracht Frankfurt's Junichi Inamoto and Wolfsburg pair Makoto Hasebe and Yoshito Okubo were also included in Okada's 25-man squad.
Japan will be without their top two goalkeepers, however, with Seigo Narazaki (ankle) and Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi (calf) both injured.
Okada, under increasing pressure following a poor run of form, read the riot act to his players after their upset 1-0 away defeat by Bahrain in a 2011 Asian Cup qualifier in midweek.
Australia lead the group with a perfect nine points from three games, two ahead of second-placed Japan.
The top two from each of the two five-team groups will qualify from Asia for the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa.
Goalkeepers: Ryota Tsuzuki (Urawa), Eiji Kawashima (Kawasaki), Takanori Sugeno (Kashiwa)
Defenders: Shuhei Terada (Kawasaki), Yuji Nakazawa (Yokohama F-Marinos), Kazumichi Takagi (Gamba Osaka), Tulio (Urawa), Yuichi Komano (Iwata), Yuto Nagatomo (FC Tokyo), Michihiro Yasuda (Gamba Osaka), Atsuto Uchida (Kashima)
Midfielders: Shunsuke Nakamura (Celtic), Hideo Hashimoto (Gamba Osaka), Junichi Inamoto (Eintracht Frankfurt), Yasuhito Endo (Gamba Osaka), Kengo Nakamura (Kawasaki), Daisuke Matsui (St Etienne), Yasuyuki Konno (FC Tokyo), Makoto Hasebe (Wolfsburg), Shinji Kagawa (Cerezo Osaka)
Forwards: Keiji Tamada (Nagoya), Seiichiro Maki (Chiba), Yoshito Okubo (Wolfsburg), Tatsuya Tanaka (Urawa), Shinji Okazaki (Shimizu)comments