Okubo making case for return to Japan team with record goals
TOKYO (AP) — Veteran striker Yoshito Okubo is overcoming age and the occasional injury scare to make a case for inclusion in Japan’s national team while re-writing the J-League record books.
Okubo scored his record-extending 160th and 161st career goals on Saturday to lead first-place Kawasaki Frontale to a 4-2 win over FC Tokyo. He was stretchered off the pitch near the end of the match with a sore knee but said on Sunday he was fine and expects to resume training on Monday.
The 33-year-old Okubo now has five goals in seven games, a pace that has caught the attention of Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic.
“He is a real goal-getter,” Halilhodzic said after Saturday’s game. “It’s a shame he isn’t a bit younger.”
Okubo has not played for the national team since the 2014 World Cup, but could be in line for a recall at the Kirin Cup in June.
Japan is bidding to qualify for its sixth straight World Cup.
Halilhodzic’s team will enter the final round of Asian qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup on Sept. 1 against United Arab Emirates.
Okubo has said in the past he wants to return to the national team but has been passed over by Halilhodzic so far and it isn’t the first time he’s been left out of the team’s plans.
He appeared for Japan only once in four years before being named to Alberto Zaccheroni’s squad for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Okubo equaled the J-League’s all-time scoring record in March when he scored his 157th career goal to match Masashi Nakayama.
After failed stints in Europe with Real Mallorca and Wolfsburg, Okubo has found a home with Kawasaki and is playing some of the best football of his career.