Kagawa injury hits Japan World Cup qualifying preparations

Tokyo (AFP) – Japan’s World Cup qualifying preparations were dealt a blow Wednesday when playmaker Shinji Kagawa suffered a shoulder injury in a 1-1 home draw with Syria.

The Borussia Dortmund midfielder was stretchered off just nine minutes into the Tokyo friendly clutching his left shoulder after an awkward fall, and could be in doubt for next week’s Asian qualifier against Iraq.

Japan football chief Kozo Tashima insisted the Blue Samurai would fly to neutral Tehran on Thursday for that game as planned, despite Wednesday’s deadly terror attacks in Iran’s capital.

Gunmen and suicide bombers stormed Iran’s parliament and the shrine of its revolutionary leader, killing 12 people in attacks claimed by the Islamic State group.

“We will go under the assumption that we will play the game as scheduled,” Tashima told local media.

Syria took a shock lead early in the second half when forward Mardik Mardikian climbed above Japan captain Maya Yoshida to power home a header.

Japan equalised after 59 minutes, Inter Milan left-back Yuto Nagatomo squaring for Yasuyuki Konno to apply a simple finish from point-blank range.

Keisuke Honda and Takashi Inui went close as Japan pushed for a winner, but the home side produced little that will strike fear into Iraq when the teams square off in Tehran on Tuesday.

“We struggled at the start, in part due to Kagawa’s injury,” Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic told reporters.

“I have concerns over Shinji of course, which isn’t helpful as we travel tomorrow. This result has provided us with a timely warning for the game with Iraq.”

Japan currently top Group B in the final round of Asian 2018 World Cup qualifiers with 16 points from seven games, ahead of Saudi Arabia on goal difference.

Australia, the reigning Asian champions, are three points behind the leaders with three matches left to play.

The top two teams from each of the two groups qualify automatically for next year’s World Cup in Russia.

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