IF you had to ask any Celtic fan to rank the three Japanese regulars in their first team, you might get some debate about the order of the top two. But it is highly likely that Daizen Maeda, admired as he is, would occupy third position behind Kyogo Furuhashi and Reo Hatate.

That is why there was such consternation in Scotland when Japan head coach Hajime Moriyasu included Maeda but omitted both Kyogo and Hatate from his World Cup squad back in December, and why eyebrows were raised further still yesterday when he did so again for their upcoming Kirin Cup matches against Uruguay and Colombia.

The initial puzzlement at Moriyasu’s decision to overlook two of Celtic’s top stars, both of whom have been in dazzling form this season, turned to mild concern when he was asked to explain the call, doing so by having a considerable pop at the level they are regularly playing at.

READ MORE: Celtic duo Kyogo Furuhashi and Reo Hatate snubbed by Japan again

It’s not that Celtic fans would particularly argue that the Scottish Premiership is among the world’s elite leagues, far from it in fact. But if the signal being sent to either player is that their international ambitions cannot be fulfilled while they play in Scotland, that raises worries they may look to move on at some point in the future.

The reflex reaction to immediately defend their players and deride the decision of Moriyasu is understandable, but Celtic supporters needn’t get too flustered about the influence of his thinking over the pair just yet.

The citing of the Scottish Premiership’s quality – or lack, thereof – as a factor in Moriyasu’s selection process was just one of many he mentioned. And clearly not a disqualifying one at that, given the rather obvious fact that Maeda is regularly named in squads despite his place in Celtic’s starting XI being less assured than his place for the Samurai Blue.

Yes, they too will be hugely disappointed that they are not to be involved for their country this time around, but the door was hardly slammed in their faces.

Moriyasu was quoted by The Japan Times as saying: "I've watched all of Celtic's games and seen what they've accomplished and their presence in the team. But there's no bar to clear to be called up; it's a comprehensive decision.

"We think about the level of the league and various other factors when making the decision. For this squad we focused on the squad from Qatar as well as some new players. There will be other call-ups. As I said, we're trying to build strongest team possible ahead of 2026.

"In order to do that we're taking a wide view of how to build the team...as I think we all agree, (Kyogo and Hatate) would absolutely be able to contribute to the team, but this time I wanted to try out some different players and that's why they weren't selected."

It seems then that as well as maintaining his core from a successful World Cup campaign, in which Maeda more than earned his place with his impressive displays in Qatar, Moriyasu has decided to give some J-League players – three of his four fresh faces ply their trade in Japan - their chance in what, after all, are friendlies.

As Moriyasu alludes to, he knows already what Kyogo and Hatate bring to the party, which admittedly might be a little concerning for Kyogo if his recent form hasn’t been enough to influence his national team manager’s thinking.

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The striker has so far failed to make much of an impression when he has been selected for his country, scoring just three goals in his 16 caps to date. If he isn’t going to be handed an opportunity to change perceptions in international friendlies, there is an argument then perhaps that he – and to a lesser extent, Hatate – needs to impress for Celtic in European competition to change Moriyasu’s mind.

Even a couple of goals in the Champions League, it could be argued, would hold more weight with Moriyasu than the 26 goals he has plundered in 38 domestic games so far this season.

The good news is that he will have the chance to do just that before Japan next have competitive fixtures in November. The bad news is that if he doesn’t manage to make the squad by then, he will be pushing 29, and be playing in a league that Moriyasu clearly doesn’t rate all that highly. Maybe then, push may come to shove.

Hatate will be 26 in November, so has more time - and arguably more development in him given his relatively late start in the professional game – on his side.

There is a wider point too. If it becomes clear a move to Austria, Belgium, Netherlands or Switzerland – comparable leagues that Moriyasu has selected players from – makes selection for Japan more likely than a move to Scotland, then it might become more difficult for Celtic to recruit from what has been fertile ground for Ange Postecoglou thus far, never mind retaining that talent. Yuki Kobayashi and Tomoki Iwata are also in his squad, don’t forget.

As it stands, Celtic fans may be torn between the clear short-term benefits of having two of their best players remaining in Scotland to rest and recharge rather than travelling thousands of miles next week to play in friendlies, and the nagging long-term concern that playing for a big fish in a small pond may stifle their dreams of playing for their country.

For now, they shouldn’t be too worried. But if Moriyasu continues to overlook the duo for competitive action, while denigrating the league in his reasoning, then a nagging annoyance could become a major headache.