Japan coach plays it safe in naming 23-man World Cup squad

A journalist rises his hand to ask questions to Japanese men's national soccer coach Akira Nishino, left, during a press conference to announce Japanese squad members for the World Cup Russia in Tokyo Thursday, May 31, 2018. Nishino named his 23-man World Cup squad, relying heavily on veteran players with previous experience in the tournament. At right is Japan Football Association President Kozo Tashima. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

Japan coach Akira Nishino is relying heavily on veteran players with previous World Cup experience in his 23-man squad for the tournament

TOKYO — Japan coach Akira Nishino is relying heavily on veteran players with previous World Cup experience in his 23-man squad for the tournament.

Keisuke Honda, Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki were among almost a dozen named Thursday who represented Japan four years ago in Brazil when the country failed to advance from the group stage.

"I considered many factors," Nishino said. "These players have experience but more than that they were picked based on their performance and the balance they offer."

Nishino made his debut as Japan coach on Wednesday when his team lost to Ghana 2-0 in a friendly.

Japan fired Vahid Halilhodzic last month, only two months before the World Cup in Russia opens, and replaced him with Nishino.

In two World Cup warm-up matches, Japan will face Switzerland on June 8 in Lugano, Switzerland, and Paraguay on June 12 in Innsbruck, Austria.

Japan will play in Group H at the World Cup with Colombia, Poland and Senegal in its sixth straight World Cup. It has only twice reached the knockout round, losing both times in the last 16.

Kashima Antlers midfielder Kento Misao, Stuttgart forward Takuma Asano and Leonesa midfielder Yosuke Ideguchi were the three players dropped from the 26-man squad for Japan's final World Cup warmup against Ghana.

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Squad:

Goalkeepers: Eiji Kawashima (Metz), Masaaki Higashiguchi (Gamba Osaka), Kosuke Nakamura (Kashiwa Reysol)

Defenders: Yuto Nagatomo (Galatasaray), Tomoaki Makino (Urawa Reds), Wataru Endo (Urawa Reds), Maya Yoshida (Southampton), Hiroki Sakai (Marseille), Gotoku Sakai (Hamburg), Gen Shoji (Kashima Antlers), Naomichi Ueda (Kashima Antlers)

Midfielders: Makoto Hasebe (Eintracht Frankfurt), Keisuke Honda (Pachuca), Takashi Inui (Eibar), Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund), Hotaru Yamaguchi (Cerezo Osaka), Genki Haraguchi (Fortuna Dusseldorf), Takashi Usami (Fortuna Dusseldorf), Gaku Shibasaki (Getafe), Ryota Oshima (Kawasaki Frontale)

Forwards: Shinji Okazaki (Leicester), Yuya Osako (Werder Bremen), Yoshinori Muto (Mainz)

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