It was striking in November's friendlies against Brazil and Belgium that coach Vahid Halilhodzic decided to drop Shinji Okazaki, Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda from the Japan squad.
But in a World Cup year, Japanese fans will be hoping that the superstar trio returns for the next international action in March, just three months before their opening Group H match in Russia.
Here are five Japan football wishes for 2018.
1. Make peace with the big three
Halilhodzic chose to go into November internationals...
South Korea handed fellow 2018 World Cup finalists Japan a brutal 4-1 home thrashing on Saturday night as Kim Shin-Wook inspired Shin Tae-Yong's side to a come-from-behind win that sealed a successful defence of the East Asian Championship title.
J.League Player of the Year Yu Kobayashi gave Japan a third minute lead from the penalty spot in Tokyo. But Kim's double, and goals from Jung Woo-young and Yeom Ki-Hun's deflected free-kick, earned the South Koreans an emphatic and historic win.
Gen Shoji's outrageous strike from the edge of the centre circle put considerable gloss on another muted performance from World Cup-bound Japan as Vahid Halilhodzic's makeshift side secured a 2-1 win over China at the East Asian Championship in Tokyo on Tuesday evening.
Shoji's long-range attempt evaded Wang Dalei, despite the goalkeeper having a clear sight of the ball from the moment the central defender took aim, only for the shot to fly over his head to double Japan's lead with just three minutes...