March 26, 2017 / 4:38 AM / 4 months ago

Ousted Honda relishing fight for place in Japan

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Football Soccer - Japan v Saudi Arabia - World Cup 2018 Qualifier - Saitama Stadium 2002, Saitama, Japan - 15/11/16. Japan's Keisuke Honda is seen in the bench seat before the match.Toru Hanai/Files

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan midfielder Keisuke Honda has vowed to win back his starting place in the national side after a lack of playing time at AC Milan saw him lose his spot to the in-form Yuya Kubo.

Gent midfielder Kubo started on the right wing in Thursday's World Cup qualifier against the United Arab Emirates and put on an accomplished display in winning his third cap, scoring the first and assisting on the second in a 2-0 victory at Al Ain.

Honda said the competition for places proved how strong the Japan team is.

"This is what football is about, there's nothing weird about it," Honda was quoted as saying by Kyodo News on Sunday. "This is just about me having lost my place in the first team here and back in Milan -- which hasn't happened before.

"But it happens and says how competitive things are on the national team now. If I come and win the job back, it'll make us even better."

Honda, who has barely featured for Milan this season, came off the bench for a 12 minute cameo and is likely to be a substitute again on Tuesday when second-placed Japan host Thailand, who are last in Group B, at Saitama Stadium.

"I think everyone wants to know how I'll play if I set foot on the pitch right now," Honda added.

"That's what it comes down to. If I can show that I can still play, that I can score, then people will have an idea of what I can do and the opportunities will increase for me."

Japan are three points clear of third-placed Australia in the race for two automatic qualifying spots from their pool with four rounds remaining.

Honda said Japan would not take Thailand lightly in a game they should win comfortably.

"It's a dangerous sign. We need to sharpen up and go into the game thinking it will be a more difficult game than we think," he said.

"They'll sit back and the way we play now, we're probably better when opponents take the game to us. I think it will be tough because we won't have opportunities to counter-attack."

Reporting by John O'Brien in Singapore; Editing by Peter Rutherford

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