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Japan call on Mitoma to help erase Asian Cup ‘frustration’

Brighton midfielder Kaoru Mitoma has been called up to the Japanese national team. Photo: Glyn Kirk/AFP

Brighton winger Kaoru Mitoma was named in Japan’s Asian Cup squad on Monday despite an ankle injury, as coach Hajime Moriyasu looks to erase the “frustration” of their 2019 final defeat.

Brighton coach Roberto De Zerbi said last week that Mitoma would be out for up to six weeks after hurting his ankle in a 1-1 draw with Crystal Palace on December 21.

But Moriyasu still included the player in his 26-man squad for the Asian Cup in Qatar, which kicks off on January 12.

“Given his current injury situation, I don’t know if he will be ready to play in the first game or not,” Moriyasu said of the 26-year-old.

“But I have been told by the national team medical staff and his club medical staff that I will be able to use him early in the tournament when he comes back from injury.”

Japan warmed up for the Asian Cup with a 5-0 friendly win over Thailand in Tokyo in front of a New Year’s Day crowd of over 60,000.

They have won the Asian Cup a record four times but they lost 3-1 to Qatar in the final of the 2019 tournament in the United Arab Emirates.

Moriyasu said his “fundamental approach hasn’t changed” over the past five years but he is determined to lift the trophy this time.

“One thing that hasn’t changed from the last time is that we will take each game as it comes and prepare as best we can, as we always do,” he said.

“The thing that has changed is that we have frustration from not winning the last time.”

Moriyasu named Liverpool midfielder Wataru Endo and Arsenal defender Takehiro Tomiyasu in his Asian Cup squad, along with Real Sociedad attacking midfielder Takefusa Kubo.

Celtic’s Daizen Maeda and Reo Hatate made the cut but club-mate Kyogo Furuhashi, who scored against Rangers on Saturday, was not selected.

Lazio’s Daichi Kamada was left out, as was midfielder Ao Tanaka, who scored Japan’s opener against Thailand.

‘Fierce competition’

Only 14 players were retained from Japan’s squad for the 2022 World Cup, where they beat Germany and Spain before losing on penalties to Croatia in the last 16.

“If you look at the overall level of Japanese football, there are more players playing at a high level,” said Moriyasu.

“There is fierce competition for places and that means there is a high level of candidates for the national team.”

Moriyasu fielded an inexperienced line-up missing several overseas-based players against a Thailand side that is also heading to the Asian Cup.

Tanaka broke the deadlock five minutes into the second half before goals from Keito Nakamura, Takumu Kawamura, Takumi Minamino and a Thailand own goal gave the hosts a comfortable win.

Moriyasu said his players had been proactive in attacking the opposition but urged them to keep improving.

“In order to win at the Asian Cup and to beat the very best teams in the world, we have to be dogged in defence and get better at winning the ball back from them,” he said.

Japan have been drawn in Group D at the Asian Cup and will face Indonesia, Iraq and Vietnam in the first round.

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