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Iwashita call-up shows the door is still open

5 Oct 2009(Mon)

October 3, 2009: One of the problems for Japan on their two-match tour of the Netherlands recently was the lack of pace in the centre of defence.

Yuji Nakazawa and Tulio are the automatic choices in the heart of the back four, but against the Dutch and Ghana Japan frequently looked cumbersome through the middle.

This will be one of the reasons for the surprise call-up of Keisuke Iwashita for Japan’s three matches against Hong Kong in Asian Cup qualifying and against Scotland and Togo in friendlies over the next few days.

Iwashita has had a breakout season for Shimizu S-Pulse, playing in the centre of defence after being a makeshift left back last season. I remember interviewing Frode Johnsen after an S-Pulse victory at Kashiwa Reysol earlier this year and the big Norwegian striker was raving about Iwashita.

His main qualities, according to Frode, were his speed and his ability to read the game, and he spoke highly of his attitude in training.

Of the three upcoming matches, the Hong Kong game is the most important as it is a qualifier for the 2011 Asian Cup in Qatar, so it will be interesting to see if Okada picks Iwashita at his home ground. More likely he will start with his top two of Nakazawa and Tulio, and maybe give Iwashita a taste of international football in front of his home fans if Japan are in control during the second half.

Whatever happens it’s a just reward for Iwashita, and shows that Okada is still prepared to look at new players. It is a signal that the door is still open to the squad for South Africa, and plenty can happen between now and the next World Cup.

What impresses me about the 23-year-old Iwashita is his aggression in the air and the high tempo at which he plays the game. You could imagine him making life very uncomfortable for a centre forward because he is always there, challenging and tackling, with no fear or doubt in his mind as he hurls himself at the ball.

He is not the tallest centre back at 1.81 metres, but he has a mighty leap and is a huge threat at set pieces with his spring-heeled jump and determination.

There were some other interesting selections further forward in the team, but Iwashita was the one that stood out for me, even though it did not make the headlines.


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