Takahara offered Japan lifeline

TOKYO - Japan striker Naohiro Takahara could be thrown a World Cup lifeline by national coach Takeshi Okada following the player's dismal run of form in 2008. The former Boca Juniors and Hamburg forward has scored 23 goals in 57 appearances for Japan but has been overlooked since last May when Okada told him he was not fit enough. With Japan playing Australia at home in a 2010 World Cup qualifier on Feb. 11, Okada could bring Takahara back to give his side more muscle against the more physical Socceroos. "If he starts scoring for the Reds and I feel he can bring the team something I'll start picking him," Okada told Japanese media on Saturday. "He is still in the picture." Arguably Japan's most potent attacking player, the 29-year-old Takahara has struggled since joining Urawa Reds from German side Eintracht Frankfurt last year. Okada expects to welcome back Celtic midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura and Brazilian-born defender Tulio from injury for the clash with Australia in Yokohama. The Australians lead Group One in the final round of Asian World Cup qualifiers with a perfect nine points from three games, two points ahead of second-placed Japan. The top two from each of the two five-team groups will qualify automatically from Asia for the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa.