Celtic relief after Japan squad announcement - but forward shortage looms as prospect of Rangers cancellation lessens
Japan play two World Cup qualifiers at home, against China on January 27 and Saudi Arabia on February, as they look to reach the finals in Qatar this November.
There were fears that Celtic could be without four Japanese players over that period, but with Kyogo Furuhashi sidelined by a troublesome hamstring injury, he was always unlikely to make the trip back to Asia.
Midfielders Yosuke Ideguchi and Reo Hatate are on the fringes of the Japan squad and despite the latter’s excellent debut against Hibs, Moriyasu has decided to leave both in Scotland.
However, Maeda – a regular fixture in the squad – has been summoned and he will now miss Celtic’s league matches away at Hearts on Wednesday, January 26, at home to Celtic on Saturday, January 29 and at home to Rangers on Wednesday, February 2.
It means Celtic are almost certainly going to be without Maeda and Furuhashi for a key tranche of fixtures, meaning the onus to lead the line could fall on Greek striker Giorgios Giakoumakis, who is only just back from his own hamstring injury.
Celtic will also be without Tom Rogic for the Asian international window after he was called up by Australia earlier in the week.
Rangers have their own internationalist absentee list, with striker Alfredo Morelos back in the Colombia squad and Joe Aribo on Nigeria duty at the Africa Cup of Nations. The Super Eagles are the favourites to win the tournament in Cameroon and Aribo could be out of action until mid-February if Nigeria go all the way.
They could also be without Morelos’ fellow forward Kemar Roofe should he be called into the Jamaica squad for their World Cup qualifiers. Roofe is only just back from injury but is an important part of the Reggae Boyz’ team.
The confirmed list of call-ups, however, means that neither club are either able or willing to request postponements from the SPFL, which will come as a relief to Scottish football authorities given the already condensed fixture schedule. Clubs can only request a call-off if they have three players away on international duty, with both Celtic (Maeda, Rogic) and Rangers (Morelos, Aribo) only having two at this stage. A call-up for Roofe, coupled with Nigeria doing keep at AFCON, would permit them to make representations to the SPFL, but their manager Giovanni van Bronckhorst has already said the plan is for Rangers to carry on with their absences.