August 24, 2017

TOKYO (AP) Keisuke Honda is among 27 players named to Japan's squad for crucial World Cup qualifiers against Australia and Saudi Arabia.

Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic will be counting on the experience of the veteran midfielder who scored in his debut for Mexican club Pachuca on Tuesday.

Other players named for the Aug. 31 match against Australia and the Sept. 5 away match against Saudi Arabia include Leicester forward Shinji Okazaki, midfielder Shinji Kagawa of Borussia Dortmund and Southampton defender Maya Yoshida.

Japan leads their Asian qualifying group with 17 points, one ahead of Australia and Saudi Arabia, and could secure a spot for the 2018 tournament with a win over the Socceroos.

The leading two teams from the two Asian qualifying groups qualify directly for Russia next year. The third-place teams in each group enter a two-leg playoff for the right to play the fourth-place CONCACAF team in the final qualifying round.

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