Posts Tagged ‘Keisuke Honda

20
Jun
12

Would the Samurai Blue slay the Three Lions?

Japan have the look of a well-oiled machine at the moment, while England continue to crunch functionally through the gears. This week I pondered who would come out on top if the two were to come head-to-head anytime soon…

After Japan got the final round of World Cup qualifiers off to a winning start with a 3-0 win over Oman I was asked an interesting question.

Somebody on twitter wondered who I thought would win between the Samurai Blue and England if they were to play a two-legged home and away contest.

My response was that surely Japan would be the favourites.

The manner in which they so easily overcame Oman and then destroyed Jordan should be taken with a pinch of salt, but, at the same time, it is an indicator of just how good this side is when compared to previous squads.

The team which did so well at the 2010 World Cup finals was impressive but far from convincing in the last stage of qualifying, drawing three times and winning just once at home.

While beating the team teams ranked 97th and 80th in the world looks fairly standard, then, for Japan such comfortable victories are not traditionally the norm.

Not only did they manage to gather the six points with a 9-0 aggregate scoreline but the swagger and poise with which they cast their opponents aside demonstrated that Alberto Zaccheroni’s team has tremendous belief in their own ability.

Contrast that with perhaps the least interesting England side in living memory and you can see why I would give Japan the edge.

24 hours before Keisuke Honda and co. picked up a strong point away to Australia to confirm their place at the top of Group B, the Three Lions bored the world to tears in an excruciating performance against France at the European Championships.

In Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ashley Young and Danny Welbeck there was undoubted potential to attack a dodgy-looking French defence, but instead of trying their luck the English players opted for a ‘solid’ approach.

Part of this problem is undoubtedly mental – goalscorer (header from a free-kick, of course) Joleon Lescott commented after the match that, “You know what you will get with an English team – plenty of pride and passion” – but there was also a depressing lack of basic ability on display amongst those in the white shirt.

This was most obvious when James Milner failed to convert after rounding the keeper early on, and although the angle was tight, his rigidity and complete absence of technique wonderfully summed up the English style.

There is always plenty of talk in England about the impact that foreign imports to the Premier League have had on the domestic game, but the national team stubbornly refuses to move on from the idea that success comes from playing the game with “pride” and “passion.”

The steadily increasing contact between Japanese players and the European game is having a positive influence on the Samurai Blue, though.

Keisuke Honda, who was the pivot from which all of Japan’s positive play stemmed against Oman, Jordan, and Australia, was in no doubt as to why the current crop of players are the best he has been involved with.

“The reason is very simple,” he said after the demolition of Jordan. “Now we have many players who play overseas. Japanese players always like ball possession and passing but foreign football always attacks more directly.

“Yatto-san [Yasuhito Endo] and [Makoto] Hasebe-san have great passing skills and our attackers are very direct so that combination is very good for us.”

The Australia game provided a far sterner test – not least because the pitch in Brisbane had been used for a rugby match just three days earlier and the referee was seemingly taking charge of a football match for the first time – but Japan did well to deal with the Socceroos more “English” style of attack (long, high balls up front and crosses into the box at any opportunity).

I asked Yasuhito Endo after the Jordan game if this was the best Japan team he had played in, and while he didn’t go quite that far he did suggest it was unique.

“I feel that the national team is always very good but in this team we have many special players,” he said. “Opponents now are afraid of Japan.”

England would be no different, and Zac Japan could certainly teach Roy Hodgson’s team a thing or two about the beautiful game.

14
Jun
12

Steady play from Honda has Japan sitting pretty

Japan will be happy with their start to the final round of qualifying for the Brazil 2014 World Cup after picking up two home wins and earning a draw away to Australia.

Integral to that success was the side’s new number four, Keisuke Honda, who was in commanding form throughout the qualifiers. I considered his importance to the Samurai Blue – and a few other talking points – for The Daily Yomiuri.

12
Jun
12

Japan aims to stay on roll in clash with Australia

Japan’s first two games in the final round of qualifying for Brazil 2014 went better than anybody could have expected, with 3-0 and 6-0 home wins over Oman and Jordan, respectively.

Tonight they take on Australia in what is sure to be their toughest game yet. The players are confident, though, and as Yasuhito Endo, Keisuke Honda, Eiji Kawashima and Yuto Nagatomo said after the romp over Jordan, they are aiming for a third consecutive win in Brisbane.

08
Jun
12

Zaccheroni works to keep Samurai Blue tightly focused

Japan got off to a terrific start in the final round of World Cup Qualifiers with a 3-0 win against Oman on Sunday.

After that game and at training this week I gathered the thoughts of manager Alberto Zaccheroni and some of his players on their next match, which is against Jordan at Saitama Stadium tonight.

03
Jun
12

Japan expects nothing less than win over Oman

The last round of Asian qualifying for the Brazil 2014 World Cup gets underway tonight, and Japan’s first match is at home to Oman.

Ahead of the game I gathered the opinions of Mike Havenaar, Yasuhito Endo, Shinji Kagawa, Ryo Miyaichi and Keisuke Honda  for a preview for The Daily Yomiuri.

29
Feb
12

Zaccheroni’s building project ready for next battle

Japan play their final match of the 3rd Round of Asian Qualifying for the 2014 World Cup against Uzbekistan tonight.

Both teams are already through so all eyes are on Alberto Zaccheroni’s team selection, and in particular Ryo Miyaichi.

07
Feb
12

Honda stalls

Another transfer window has come and gone with Keisuke Honda failing to find a way out of Moscow. Things may not be all doom and gloom though, and his perfect move may still be on the cards…

Keisuke Honda has become something of a forgotten man of late.

Injury, the increasing amount of success being enjoyed by his compatriots in Europe, and the large contract he is stuck on at CSKA Moscow have all combined to shift the player – who after his move to and success at VVV Venlo was seen as something of a trailblazer for Japanese football, and just 18 months ago was undoubtedly the hottest Japanese property going – to the margins somewhat.

Every transfer window rumours circulate linking him to some of the biggest clubs in Europe, yet nothing ever materialises.

Whether many of these stories have cropped up as a result of genuine interest from the sides involved or because of clever manoeuvring on the part of Honda and his representatives is certainly open to debate, although the most recent fiasco involving Lazio did look to be a done deal.

In the end the two clubs could not agree on a fee though – he is only halfway through a four year contract so CSKA have no pressing need to sell – and, as he himself predicted, the move fell through right at the death.

“In modern football, anything can happen at the last moment,” Russian news network RT reported Honda as having told Sports Nippon a couple of days ahead of the deadline. “But my desire is clear – I want to play in the Italian championship.”

He won’t be getting to do that any time soon, and although a huge clash against Real Madrid this month will soften the blow a little, he must privately be seething to still be snowed in in Russia.

While the initial feelings will be of regret, this latest failure to change clubs may not be the end of the world though, and it still leaves the door open for him to join Liverpool – a club at which I believe he could become a big success.

It had long been assumed that Honda’s next progression would be to Merseyside, and it is a transfer that would make a lot of sense.

He has made under 50 appearances in his two years with CSKA and needs to be playing regularly and at a higher level if he wants to reach his full potential.

Liverpool, like Lazio, are a big club who would constitute a step up, without being at the very top level where competition for places is too fierce.

At the very best clubs he would in no way be guaranteed minutes, or even a place on an expensively-assembled bench. Too much time on the sidelines at this stage of his career would be a poor move to make. Especially as more and more of his Japanese teammates continue to move up through the gears.

He thrives as the main man in the team, and needs the play to be built up around him if his teammates are to fully benefit from his abilities.

His presence and strength at holding the ball up, as well as his fantastic awareness and ability to pick out a pass would be a welcome addition to Kenny Dalglish’s side, who need a focal point with £35 million man Andy Carroll misfiring after his big money move this time last year.

Honda rarely, if ever, shows any nerves out on the pitch, and would be unlikely to experience any such stage-fright at Anfield. He is supremely confident in his own ability – almost to the point of arrogance – and would thrive on the pressure of playing in front of the Kop.

He also speaks excellent English – perhaps even better than the Geordie Carroll – which would help him to quickly settle.

The 25-year-old has the potential to link up superbly with Steven Gerrard, while his measured and studious approach would be perfectly complemented by the more lively styles of the likes of Luis Suarez and Craig Bellamy.

Of course, whether Dalglish would be willing to admit defeat with regards to Carroll and be able to convince his bosses that Honda is worth another substantial outlay in the summer is unknown.

If he could then this latest hiccup may well prove to be a blessing in disguise for Honda though, and he may not have to wait too much longer to be back in the limelight.

21
Oct
11

Shooting Stars

Football fans the world over love a new star. The constant hunger for fresh articles analysing their performances, critiquing them and predicting or declaring their downfall make it difficult to arive at balanced judgments of their true abilities. In Japan this is process is particularly pronounced and shelf-life seems to be set at around six months….

A couple of years ago it seemed as if all of Japan’s prospects at the 2010 World Cup depended solely upon Shunsuke Nakamura.

He was the media darling and his struggles with injury and poor form created thousands of column inches in the build-up to the tournament.

Then Keisuke Honda came along and became the go-to guy for comments, seemingly established as the new face of the Samurai Blue.

While the CSKA Moscow ‘star’ is still of central importance to the success of the national team his is not the name most spotted on shirts at the stadium at the moment though, with first Shinji Kagawa and then Yuto Nagatomo rising to the top of the pile on the back of their moves to Europe. 

Of course, every country likes to have their hero, and a new face upon which to pin a nation’s hopes is not in any way unique to Japanese football.

The frequency with which the idol is changed here – and the speed at which they are elevated to the summit – is fairly unusual though.

The reason I say ‘star’ in relation to Honda is not meant in any way to detract from his abilities as a player, but in all truth he is yet to really achieve enough to warrant the term.

Yes, he scored a couple of goals at the World Cup and looks to have the ability to make it in one of the bigger leagues, but at 25 he is still stuck in Russia and very few fans outside of Japan know much, if anything, about him.

The manner in which home-grown success stories are overblown in Japan projects daunting expectations onto the players though, and this most recently resulted in Kagawa cutting a forlorn figure around the team in the build-up to the Tajikistan game.

“I want to get my goal. If I can score then maybe my performance will jump up,” he said when questioned for the umpteenth time about the ‘slump in form’ that had seen him go three games without scoring for the national team.

Just three games.

“I only want to focus on the next match and I want to play to my real ability,” he continued. “But this time maybe the most important thing is to not think. If I can play like that then maybe that will be my best performance.”

That last observation hit the nail firmly on the head. My impressions from watching him of late were that he had been trying to do too much. Trying to carry the team. Trying to live up to his billing.

He clearly has the ability so let’s just let him play the game the way that comes naturally to him – and has brought about his success to date – and not get on his back when things aren’t going exactly to plan. 

His magnificent pair of goals against Tajikistan (although I still think the second was a cross, and so did Yasuhito Endo) demonstrate that he has lost none of the ability that caused his rapid rise from J2 to the Bundesliga.

Even so, he felt the need to qualify this after the game, telling reporters that, “my confidence depends on what happens in the future. I have to keep going.”

While it is good to seek improvement, the players should not fear their next game and the negative headlines that may appear if their performance dips a little.

Football players are not tarento. Their shelf-life is not just six months and they will have ups and downs. We don’t need a new face every time the leaves change.

Hiroshi Kiyotake and Genki Haraguchi seem to be the next duo vying to be the latest luminous-booted starlet who proves that Japan’s Got Talent, but let’s not get carried away.

Genki’s had a good season considering the atrocious form of his club, while Kiyotake’s settled well into the national team in his first few appearances.

We shouldn’t forget the old proverb about the foolishness of constructing houses on sand.

 Instead of building players up too quickly and then knocking them down with similar haste, let’s give them a bit of time to lay their foundations before we proclaim them as ‘world class’ or past it.

15
Sep
11

Size isn’t important…

… it’s what you do with it that counts.

I would like to start this week’s column with a question: can anybody tell me, without looking it up, how tall Yasuhito Endo is? How about Yuichi Komano?

I doubt whether many of you knew either of those answers (Endo is 178cm and Komano just 172 – yes, I had to check) but I’m fairly certain that most people could tell me the height of Japan’s newest striker, to give him his full name, “194 senchi Mike Havenaar.”

I know that Havenaar is tall, you can tell that by looking at him. I am also aware of the fact that his height is fairly unusual in Japan and, in certain circumstances, would be a useful nugget of information to pass on.

Quite why television commentators feel the need to tell us nigh-on every time they mention his name is beyond me, though.

Fortunately I was at Saitama Stadium when he made his debut so I was spared during the North Korea game, but watching the Uzbekistan match on TV I lost count of the number of times “194 senchi Mike Havenaar” was referred to.

It reminded me a little of England’s Peter Crouch who we were frequently told “had good feet for a big man”. The assumption that being tall instantly means you should be rubbish with your feet is about as incorrect as the one which states that short players are not strong enough, or indeed that tall players are inherently better at heading.

Crouch dwarfs Havenaar, standing at 201cm, but he’s actually pretty rubbish in the air, and his poor timing and lack of control over his gangly frame mean he usually ends up fouling his marker or heading off target – if he makes contact with the ball at all.

Mike is not that bad, but of his 11 goals in the league prior to his national team call-up seven had been slotted home with his feet (primarily his left).

Of course, his aerial presence, like that of Nagoya Grampus’ Josh Kennedy, has also been a useful weapon for his club side in their fight to stay in J1, but he, like Kennedy, is about more than that – something that Grampus head coach Dragan Stojkovic referred to after Havenaar inspired Kofu to victory against his side earlier in the season.

“Mike played very well today, the best example for my strikers,” he said in the wake of the 3-1 defeat, in which Havenaar scored (with his left foot). “How one striker should move and fight. It’s very difficult to stop a striker who is always moving, not easy to mark.”

His technical abilities, as well as his stature, do provide an alternative option for Zac Japan, and after coming on in both of the recent qualifiers he did mix things up and cause problems for the opposing defences.

This was particularly useful considering the absence of Keisuke Honda, whose capacity to look after the ball and ease the pressure on the defence is so important for the national team, and was referred to ahead of the North Korea game by Shinji Okazaki.

“Honda has a great talent for holding the ball up and all of the players know that if we are in trouble we can pass to Keisuke; he is the safety ball,” the Stuttgart forward said. “If he is absent then we lose that option.”

Without that out-ball on offer Japan had to rethink slightly, and having struggled with their short, quick passing game the introduction of Havenaar from the bench did provide a more direct alternative.

The 24-year-old very nearly made a dream impact, striking a right-footed effort onto the bar shortly after coming on, and when I spoke to him after the game he seemed comfortable with the expectations that come with his height (although he doesn’t have to listen to the commentators while he’s playing, does he).

“The last five minutes we started to kick long balls to me but the plan was to work from the side and to get crosses in,” he explained. “I knew we were going to win but I hope that I could have scored.”

And if his performances this season are anything to go by he surely will. But not because he is 194cm, so please stop telling us.

02
Sep
11

Japan v. North Korea Preview

Tonight, in spite of the impending typhoon, Japan takes on North Korea in their first World Cup qualifier for Brazil 2014.

My preview of the game, featuring comments from several Samurai Blue players, can be found here.




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