Tokyo – Out-of-sorts Manchester United star Shinji Kagawa received a boost Thursday when he was named as one of 14 Europe-based players for Japan's squad to face Serbia and Belarus.
Kagawa, who has admitted he faces a fight to make it at Old Trafford after an unpromising start under David Moyes, can expect to get valuable playing time in the away friendlies.
Kagawa has mostly been overlooked this season and after finally starting a Premier League game on Saturday, he was hauled off after 45 minutes of the 2-1 home defeat to West Bromwich Albion.
The 24-year-old midfielder, a two-time Bundesliga player of the year with Borussia Dortmund, did not make the field in Wednesday's 1-1 Champions League draw with Shakhtar Donetsk.
According to reports, Kagawa has said he needs to make a major improvement if wants to have a future at the English champions under their new boss Moyes.
Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni named a 23-man squad, with no new faces, to play Serbia on October 11 and Belarus four days later.
The Italian said he hoped the games would “help the team grow and gain experience” toward next year's World Cup finals.
The squad features first-team regulars Kagawa, CSKA Moscow playmaker Keisuke Honda and Inter-Milan defender Yuto Nagatomo as well as J-League stars like veteran Gamba Osaka midfielder Yasuhito Endo.
Last month, Kagawa scored a scintillating goal in Japan's 3-1
friendly win over Ghana, and later admitted it was “frustrating” to be sidelined at Manchester United.
The Asian champions have clinched their fifth straight World Cup berth but they have since come under fire for losing all three games at the Confederations Cup.
“Serbia are very balanced as a team and play aggressive and dynamic football,” Zaccheroni said. Serbia are 43rd in the FIFA rankings, one place below Japan.
“Belarus are physically gifted and play aggressive football while keeping themselves compact,” he added. “They are always looking to launch counterattacks and we'll have to watch out.”
Goalkeepers: Eiji Kawashima (Standard Liege/BEL), Shusaku Nishikawa (Sanfrecce Hiroshima), Shuichi Gonda (FC Tokyo)
Defenders: Yasuyuki Konno (Gamba Osaka), Masahiko Inoha (Jubilo Iwata), Yuto Nagatomo (Inter Milan/ITA), Masato Morishige (FC Tokyo), Atsuto Uchida (Schalke/GER), Maya Yoshida (Southampton/ENG), Hiroki Sakai (Hannover/GER), Gotoku Sakai (Stuttgart/GER)
Midfielders: Yasuhito Endo (Gamba Osaka), Makoto Hasebe (Nuremberg/GER), Hajime Hosogai (Hertha Berlin/GER), Keisuke Honda (CSKA Moscow/RUS), Hotaru Yamaguchi (Cerezo Osaka)
Forwards: Shinji Okazaki (Mainz/GER), Mike Havenaar (Vitesse/NED), Takashi Inui (Eintracht Frankfurt/GER), Shinji Kagawa (Manchester United/ENG), Hiroshi Kiyotake (Nuremberg/GER), Yoichiro Kakitani (Cerezo Osaka), Manabu Saito (Yokohama Marinos) – Sapa-AFP