Japan know biggest challenges are yet to come


Straight after Japan’s 2-1 victory over Colombia they were on a flight back to their training camp in Kazan, receiving a heroes welcome from those working there. While those who featured significantly in the match spent time in recovery, others who didn’t feature so prominently such as Shinji Okazaki trained in chilly conditions using Rubin Kazan’s match-day facilities. There were beaming smiles on the faces of the whole squad and rightly so having beaten the toughest team on paper in their group but the experienced heads knew the biggest challenges were yet to come.

Left-back Yuto Nagatomo, now plying his trade at Galatasaray in Turkey, spoke to the Japanese Football Association about the Colombia game saying “Even if we win the first match, it means nothing if we lose the next two matches. It’s important to gain confidence but we struggled against a Colombian side who were a man short. We are the weakest team in our group in terms of quality. We must stay realistic and make our decisions rationally or else we may be hit hard in the next two matches.”

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Shinji Kagawa finding his form in a Borussia Dortmund shirt again

Borussia Dortmund playmaker Shinji Kagawa has enjoyed a bright start to the new Bundesliga season, with the 26-year-old scoring and creating two goals in as many games. His return to the Westfalenstadion didn’t quite go to plan in the first-half of last season, with former manager Jurgen Klopp having to drop him until he could find some consistency in his performances, but this campaign sees the Japanese international at his best

“I’m delighted for (Kagawa) as he really deserved it. He worked incredibly hard in the second half, created a lot and set the tone time and time again. I thought we looked very good. We were ever-present, dominated the match and delivered a really top performance,” said new manager Thomas Tuchel after a 4-0 win against FC Ingolstadt.

BVB were outstanding in pre-season under their new head coach Tuchel, and Kagawa was a notable standout performer in many of the games. The former Manchester United midfielder has continued such impressive form into all competitions with three goals in their Europa League qualifiers, and he could well be a key player on all four fronts this season.

After a failed spell in the Premier League, Kagawa’s career seemed to be spiralling following a difficult return to Germany, but his early season form suggests real progress. The Japanese playmaker has been at his creative best in the German top-flight, and has helped Dortmund to second in the table with a 100% record from their two games played.

The in-form club have scored eight goals without reply, and are being tipped to challenge defending champions Bayern Munich for the league crown as a result. Dortmund have stiff competition in the side, with the likes of Henrik Mkhitaryan also impressing for BVB, but Kagawa is sure to keep his place in the side if he continues performing.

Before a failed spell in the Premier League with Manchester United, Kagawa was a star in the Bundesliga. He won back-to-back titles with BVB (2010/11 & 2011/12), scoring 21 goals in his 49 league games in his two-year stint in Germany. Things didn’t go well after earning a big-money move to United, however, with the 26-year-old failing to score at all in his second season at Old Trafford, but Kagawa is sure to put his two failed years behind him.

Now he’s finally proving his worth with his a side where he enjoyed the most success in his career, Kagawa could lead the side to silverware based on his showings so far. Supporters will be delighted to see a former hero at his best in his second stint, and will be licking their lips at the prospect of what he could once again achieve for BVB.