There was good news and bad news for Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic as he prepares for two absolutely crucial 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers against Australia on August 31 and then in Saudi Arabia five days later.
A win against the Caltex Socceroos at Saitama Stadium on Thursday in the penultimate game in Group B, will secure the Samurai Blue’s spot in a sixth successive World Cup.
Anything less and the team will probably need at least a draw from a difficult trip to Jeddah if it is to occupy one of the two automatic qualification spots.
So the news that the vastly experienced left-back Yuto Nagatomo limped off the pitch at the Olympic Stadium as Inter Milan won 3-1 at Roma will be a worry for the under-pressure Bosnian coach.
According to reports in Italy, the 30-year-old, who has been with the Serie A club since 2011, asked to be substituted.
“My hamstring tightened up,” he said. “I’ll head home and talk things over with the doctor.”
Nagatomo will be examined once he arrives in Tokyo.
It comes after there was some positive news for Halilhodzic whose teams sits on top of the group with a point more than Australia and Saudi Arabia.
Striker Yuya Osaka, who scored twice against Australia in the 2013 East Asian Cup, has been battling an injury but came back in the Bundesliga to play 90 minutes at the weekend for FC Koln.
Shinji Kagawa came off the bench in the second half to replace Mario Gotze and get 30 minutes under his belt for early Bundesliga pacesetters Borussia Dortmund.
Dortmund defeated Hertha Berlin 2-0 with Genki Haraguchi appearing on the pitch around the hour mark.
Haraguchi has enjoyed three good seasons with Berlin and his strike against Australia in Melbourne last October shows the danger he poses. With five goals on the road to Russia 2018, the 26-year-old is looking fresh.
Captain Makoto Hasebe, recalled to the squad for the first time since November after undergoing knee surgery, played a second 90-minute game of the season for Eintracht Frankfurt and the defensive midfielder looks to be back to full fitness.
In France, goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima played as Metz lost 1-0 at Caen to sink to bottom of Ligue 1 while defender Hiroki Sakai endured a torrid afternoon at Monaco as his Marseille team lost 6-1.
It truly is a global game and Halilhodzic would have been keeping an eye on the Southern California border with Mexico where Keisuke Honda’s Pachuca lost 2-1 to Tijuana. Honda played the second half, his second appearance in Liga MX.
Over in England, striker Shinji Okazaki played his usual first hour coming off as Leicester City lost 2-0 at Manchester United, failing to score for the first time this season. Maya Yoshida, the centre-back signed a new three-year contract at Southampton last week, has played every minute this season as the Saints became the first team to take points off Huddersfield Town and Aaron Mooy.
Back in Japan, Kashima Antlers stay five points clear at the top thanks to a hard-fought 1-0 win at Cerezo Osaka. National team defenders Gen Shoji and Naomichi Ueda were rocks at the back for the eight-time champions to deny Japan team-mates Hotaru Yamaguchi and Kenyu Sugimoto.
Yosuke Ideguchi recorded an assist as Gamba Osaka won 3-1 at Sagan Tosu.
Milicic ‘extremely proud’ of Young Socceroos comeback
Young Socceroos boss Ante Milicic praised his side’s “strong Australian mentality” after they battled back to salvage a 1-1 draw in their AFC U-19 Championship opener against Korea Republic. Melbourne City’s Ramy Najjarine came off the bench to score a stunning 89th-minute equ
Update to Young Socceroos squad for AFC U19 Championship
Football Federation Australia (FFA) has confirmed on Friday a change to the Young Socceroos squad that is competing at the 2018 AFC U19 Championship in Indonesia. Young Socceroos coach Ante Milicic has brought in Melbourne City FC’s Connor Metcalfe to replace Western Sydney Wa
When are your Caltex Socceroos in action this weekend?
Awer Mabil will be among the Aussies taking Caltex Socceroos form back to the club grind as Aaron Mooy braces for a huge Premier League test this weekend. Meanwhile, there's a match not to be missed in Scotland that's set to showcase several of our overseas stars. Read on t