Nao's World Cup dream shattered

After the group stage draw for the 2010 World Cup was made, placing Japan in a perilous group that includes European and African powerhouses Holland and Cameroon, and dangerous European darkhorses Denmark, Japan national team manager Takeshi Okada had two clear choices: play it safe and hope to not be disgraced, or go for broke and pick an attacking squad full of impact players who might make the difference in a tight group. So, after much anticipation about the make-up of the 23-man World Cup squad, Okada sat down and laid an egg at JFA HQ this afternoon.

Before I elaborate, here are the names Okada called out: GKs: Narazaki (Nagoya), Kawashima (Kawasaki), Kawaguchi (Iwata); DFs: Nakazawa (Yokohama), Tanaka (Nagoya), Komano (Iwata), Iwamasa (Kashima), YASUYUKI KONNO (FC Tokyo), YUTO NAGATOMO (FC Tokyo), Uchida (Kashima); MFs: S. Nakamura (Yokohama), Inamoto (Kawasaki), Endo (G. Osaka), K. Nakamura (Kawasaki), Matsui (Grenoble), Abe (Urawa), Hasebe (Wolfsburg), Honda (CSKA Moscow); FWs: Tamada (Nagoya), Okubo (Kobe), Yano (Niigata), Okazaki (Shimizu), Morimoto (Catania).

While we all congratulate Konno and Nagatomo on well-deserved and wholly-expected call-ups, simply put, the exclusion of FC Tokyo winger Naohiro Ishikawa (and, to a lesser extent, Gasmen striker Sota Hirayama) is a perfect example of a manager bottling a huge decision in favor of the safer option. I could be accused of an FC Tokyo bias, but hey, you haven't come here to find out if Morimoto made the squad, have you? While Nao has endured a relative lean spell so far this season (compared to his barnstorming play in '09 before his knee injury) and has seemed to be trying too hard to prove he was over his injury (and to impress Okada, no doubt), he represents something that the squad doesn't have – a game-changing winger with the pace to trouble any defence.

Honda should start on one wing, opposite Shunsuke, which leaves only Matsui on the bench as a potential impact side midfielder, as the other midfielders in the squad all play centrally for their clubs. Basically I think the choice of five out-and-out central midfielders is the major flaw in the 23, and Nao would've been the obvious choice as a more attacking threat,  instead of Abe, for example, who won't play (even in case of injury – he's the fifth central midfielder!).

In the case of Sota, I would definitely be guilty of a pro-FC Tokyo bias, but hear me out. Of the five strikers chosen, I believe three of them are basically the same type of player – Okazaki, Tamada and Okubo – and Tamada and Okubo have continually proven how useless they are at international level. To call Hirayama international class is laughable to some (many?) but as with Nao, he would offer something the squad lacks, a big man who could hold up the ball and link up with the likes of Okazaki and Morimoto.

So, rant over, and in conclusion, Okada's a bottler. Best of luck to Konno and Nagatomo, they'll do us proud but the manager's semi final pledge is looking even more daft after today.