Japan will arrive for the Confederations Cup in buoyant mood. Their 1-1 draw in midweek with Asian rivals Australia ensured that they were the first team to guarantee their place in next year’s World Cup finals.
It will be the fifth consecutive finals we will see the Japanese, and they are a technically gifted bunch. The unit is sound, although they might lack the star individual quality that other teams might possess, both in this warm-up event and looking ahead to 2014.
However, if there is one Japanese player who can make the difference, then it is the creative midfielder Keisuke Honda. Regularly deployed as an attacking midfielder, Honda has the ability to play just behind the main striker, and is one of the best when it comes to keeping the ball, and dictating the tempo of an attack.
His craft and vision played a major part in CSKA Moscow regaining the Russian league title, and regularly chipping in with eight or nine goals per season, it is a surprise that top European clubs haven’t looked at taking a gamble on Honda.
Some players are also just born with the ability to cause destruction from direct free-kicks. David Beckham had it, so does Cristiano Ronaldo and Didier Drogba, and Honda is among the best too.
He scored the first direct free-kick of the 2010 World Cup in the group game with Denmark, smashing a shot from 30 yards out past a bewildered Thomas Sorensen. He won two man of the match awards in South Africa, and ensured Japan got past the group stage of a World Cup for the first time on foreign soil.
Honda links up well with Shinji Kagawa, and opposing teams will have to keep him quiet or they will get punished. Do not underestimate the Japanese at the Confederations Cup, and Honda has the chance to use this tournament to really put himself in the European shop window.
It is difficult to read too much into the career of Shinji Kagawa thanks to his record with the treatment table. There is no doubt that he is a very gifted footballer, and he is the reigning AFC International Player of the Year. However, he has been denied the opportunity to show what he really is capable of due to injuries.
Manchester United fans will be frustrated with how his first season panned out and so will Kagawa. Injury concerns meant he missed the majority of their winter programme, and was one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s biggest omissions for the second-leg of the Champions League tie with Real Madrid was to leave Kagawa out.
The Japanese midfielder had just turned in his most convincing performance in the Premier League three days earlier against Norwich City, bagging his first hat-trick for the Red Devils. It was Wayne Rooney’s absence from the starting XI that took the headlines, but Kagawa had to sit all night on the bench against Madrid when he could have made the ultimate difference, especially if Nani hadn’t been sent off on the hour mark.
That pretty much summed up his first season in England, but he is still young enough to force himself into the line-up at Old Trafford on a regular basis, especially under new management.
His scoring record at Borussia Dortmund was stunning, netting 21 league goals in just 49 league appearances over two seasons. When he has a clear run of games without interruption, Kagawa’s confidence really soars.
He has a deft passing ability, which is a useful quality to have considering how attack-minded he is. His technique on the ball and movement into the channels often leaves defenders in a spin, meaning he works well with the similarly-minded Keisuke Honda.
An agile player with an excellent brain for the game, the general consensus is he is only going to get better. The Confederations Cup could well be lit up by some of Kagawa’s magical passing ability. He definitely is one to watch.
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