Ito left out of Japan squad amid sexual assault claim

<a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Junya Ito;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Junya Ito</a> was left out of <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Japan;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Japan</a>'s squad to face North Korea home and away in World Cup qualifiers (Fred TANNEAU)

Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu said Thursday he wanted to “protect” winger Junya Ito by leaving him out of his squad to face North Korea in home and away World Cup qualifiers this month.

Ito left the Asian Cup last month after Japanese police said he was under investigation over an alleged sexual assault in Osaka last year.

Ito denies the allegation and is suing his accusers for 200 million yen ($1.3 million) in damages.

The 30-year-old has since been playing regularly for French club Reims but Moriyasu left him out of his squad to face North Korea in Tokyo on March 21 and Pyongyang five days later.

“I tried to imagine what the surrounding environment would have been like for him in Japan and I didn’t think it would be one that would allow him to live and play football in peace,” local media reported Moriyasu as saying.

“It wasn’t just him — I didn’t think the whole team would have been able to go about their business in peace.”

The allegation against Ito emerged as Japan were preparing to play Bahrain in the last 16 at the Asian Cup.

He was an unused substitute for the game and left the squad before their 2-1 quarter-final defeat to Iran.

Ito has played 54 games for Japan, scoring 13 goals.

“Thinking about the impact on his family, who are the most important, I thought it was best not to call him up now,” Moriyasu added.

“I passed him over to protect him.”

The coach handed a surprise recall to veteran full-back Yuto Nagatomo, who had not been called up since the 2022 World Cup.

The 37-year-old is Japan’s second most-capped player ever with 142 international appearances.

Moriyasu retained the services of goalkeeper Zion Suzuki, who made several high-profile mistakes at the Asian Cup.

Suzuki, whose father is Ghanaian-American and mother Japanese, also said he was racially abused online during the tournament.

Moriyasu recalled goalkeeper Keisuke Osako, who missed the Asian Cup through injury.

Japan have made a perfect start to World Cup qualifying with wins over Myanmar and Syria.

North Korea lost 1-0 to Syria before thrashing Myanmar 6-1.

The game in Pyongyang will be Japan’s first in the North Korean capital since 2011.


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