TOKYO (AFP) – Japan boss Javier Aguirre opted for caution on Monday as he named his 23-man Asian Cup squad, abandoning the tinkering approach that brought a premature end to his honeymoon period as coach.
The Mexican retained the spine of the team that flopped at this year’s World Cup for next month’s title defence in Australia.
He snubbed the J-League’s hottest marksman Takashi Usami, the former Bayern Munich loanee whose goals helped Gamba Osaka to the domestic treble this season.
Aguirre, currently the focus of a match-fixing scandal in Spain, told a news conference: “This is a very balanced squad with experienced players who have played at World Cups. We’ve prepared well and our target is absolutely to lift the Asian Cup again.”
German-based midfielder Hiroshi Kiyotake, who played no part in Aguirre’s first six games in charge, comes back in alongside talisman Keisuke Honda and playmaker Shinji Kagawa in a squad featuring 11 players employed by European clubs.
“My philosophy is to use versatile players capable of playing in a number of positions,” added Aguirre. “It’s important the players can adapt to whatever system we use. It’s not formations that win matches, it’s players.”
After a woeful start in the job when Japan appeared to be going backwards, Aguirre has put his trust in the old guard with captain Makoto Hasebe and record caps holder Yasuhito Endo injecting stability.
Endo, who has made 148 appearances for Japan and was recently named the J-League’s player of the year, had been discarded by Aguirre after he replaced Italian Alberto Zaccheroni following the World Cup.
But Aguirre, whose side face Jordan, Iraq and Palestine in Australia, denied his hand had been forced after a poor run culminating in a 4-0 thrashing by Brazil in October when Neymar ran riot, scoring all four goals.
“I don’t look at age, I look at quality,” insisted the 56-year-old, who led Mexico to the last 16 of the 2002 and 2010 World Cups.
“I knew about the experienced players three or four years before coming to Japan. I knew how good they were. I wanted to give the younger players the chance to win their places and some of them have done so.”
Aguirre is set to appear in court in Valencia in February following a probe into allegations of match-fixing dating back to 2011 when he was manager of Zaragoza. He rejected suggestions the scandal engulfing him could be a distraction.
“I’m only focused on winning the Asian Cup,” he snapped. “I am thinking only about preparing the team — we have specialists analysing the opposition, we have dieticians, we will make sure we’re conditioned to cope with the heat. We will be ready.”
The Blue Samurai, who won the 2011 Asian Cup under Zaccheroni, face Palestine in their opening Group D game on January 12.