Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni has hinted he could hand Keisuke Honda his first call-up in eight months for a friendly against Azerbaijan.
The friendly will see the Blue Samurai face the 110th FIFA-ranked nation at Ecopa Stadium in Shizuoka Prefecture, less than two weeks before Japan open the final stage of World Cup qualifying against Oman on June 3.
Originally planned to be a training match between a domestic squad and a university team, Zaccheroni asked instead for a full ‘A’ match against a lower-ranked opponent following the final group draw in March, which saw Japan paired with Oman, Jordan, Iraq and Australia.
But more than a warm-up for his players, the friendly could serve as a big test for Honda, who recently played 90 minutes against Dinamo Moscow after spending six weeks on the sidelines with a thigh injury.
“Honda is an incredibly important player for the national team, and to get him ready for June we want to support him as much as possible,” Zaccheroni told reporters on Monday on the first day of a three-day camp for potential domestic call-ups.
“Seeing him play for 90 minutes (against Dinamo) was a good opportunity to see his condition. If he keeps practicing, we’ll be able to use him against Azerbaijan.”
Although Honda could get the go-ahead in May, the former VVV man’s fitness will determine how much – or little – he plays in June.
“(Out of the three matches) we’d like to give him at least one appearance,” Zaccheroni said.
“We want to figure out what’s best for him.”
Zaccheroni named 23 players in the squad of domestic-based players on Sunday, including Jubilo Iwata striker Hiroki Yamada, Kashiwa Reysol defender Wataru Hashimoto and FC Tokyo midfielder Hideto Takahashi, who all received their first call-ups.
Veterans Yasuhito Endo, Yuichi Komano and Yasuyuki Konno are also in the squad.