Coming to Brazil this summer, Japan can count on their two biggest stars, Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa to inspire their country to a respectable achievement in a World Cup where the European and American super powers flex their superior muscles.
While Honda is the team’s obvious leader, Kagawa is the poster boy, courtesy of his transfer to European giants, Manchester United.
However, both Samurai Blue superstars need to be back on form if the Asian powerhouse is to make anything of its trip to Brazil.
Former Borussia Dortmund playmaker, Kagawa, has endured a far-from-glamorous season at Manchester United. The 25-year old did not earn the trust of former manager, David Moyes, and has not performed to his fullest potential when given the opportunity this season.
Honda, on the other hand, has moved from the cold league of Russia to floundering Italian giants, AC Milan, on a free transfer in the January transfer window. Although he has played a key role since joining the San Siro outfit, he has not found his top game in a difficult season for the former Champions League winners.
While both players are goal-scoring midfielders, they are known for different qualities. Kagawa’s vision, technique, movement and deft passing can break down the opposition defence, while Honda’s playmaking ability, dribbling ability and set-piece prowess start attacks and give Japan a variety of options.
Coach Alberto Zaccheroni has done well to integrate both stars smoothly into his many formations. While Honda dictates the middle, Kagawa sneaks in from the wings.
Since taking charge of the team in 2010, the Italian-born 61-year-old former AC Milan coach has set his side to play enthrallingly attacking football. He also makes use of his fullbacks to full effect. He won the Asian Cup last year, defeating Australia. The Asian champions headed to the Confederations Cup in Brazil but were outclassed. However, their fluid attacking display was met with rave review home and abroad; and it is hoped that they can win games in such manner this year.
Japan were the first nation to qualify for the World Cup in a group that had Australia, thanks to the displays of their two superstar.
However, since tasting World Cup action in 2002 on home soil, Japan has qualified for every tournament since, and they achieved their best result of a last 16 showing in 2002 and 2010. They will be hoping to improve in Brazil after being drawn in a favourable group including Greece, Colombia and Ivory Coast.
Zaccheroni can also call upon the likes of Atsuto Uchida, Yuto Nagatomo, Shinji Okazaki, and Hiroshi Kiyotake to support his superstar cast.
Attack! Attack!! Attack!!! This has always been the country’s mantra, and fans will continue to hope Kagawa and Honda will be on top of their game and deliver the goods.
With the fullbacks in full attacking swing, Japan’s leaky defence will give way and it will most likely derail their hopes of a very successful World Cup campaign.
Japan will surely play more entertaining attacking football, but its defence will be their undoing in the soccer fiesta holding in Brazil.