Kagawa to take out frustration on World Cup opponents
Manchester: Manchester United forgotten man Shinji Kagawa will be playing for his career when he takes the stage for Japan at the World Cup finals.
The 25-year-old playmaker may deny he has a personal agenda after a frustrating season in England, but Japan will hope Kagawa can channel that frustration and help fire them into the knockout stages in Brazil.
Kagawa was an instant hit at Old Trafford after being signed by Alex Ferguson in 2012 from Bundesliga heavyweights Borussia Dortmund, but has cut a forlorn figure this term, largely overlooked by ousted manager David Moyes.
He has consistently produced the goods for Japan, however, despite the taxing long-haul flights, and has showed shades of annoyance of his plight at Old Trafford.
"Please ask Moyes why I`m not in the side," he said in September, after scoring in Japan`s 3-1 win over Ghana.
Twice a German title-winner with Borussia Dortmund, Kagawa will have a point to prove in Brazil, where Japan face Colombia, Ivory Coast and Greece in Group C.
He will be relatively fresh and, perhaps significantly, in the shop window after United`s January signing of Juan Mata plunged Kagawa`s club future into further doubt.
And that could be good news for Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni, a great admirer of the mercurial midfielder.
"Kagawa can play in the hole behind the strikers or come in from the left to equal effect," Italian Zaccheroni said after Japan`s 4-2 World Cup warm-up win over New Zealand.
"He has a wonderful ability to come in off the flanks and make things happen."
While AC Milan midfielder Keisuke Honda provides the power and drive in Japan`s engine room, Kagawa has an opportunity to be one of the World Cup`s stand-out players.
Japan do not play under the same suffocating pressure as England, Italy or Germany, for example, and the Asian champions will fancy their chances of progressing to the last 16, as they did in South Africa four years ago, when Kagawa failed to make the squad.
Honda`s goals propelled Japan to upset wins over Cameroon and Denmark in 2010 before the Blue Samurai bowed out to Paraguay on penalties.
Kagawa`s vision and eye for the killer ball will make him a real threat in Brazil, while Japan`s pressing style and speed on the counter gives them a fighting chance of replicating their achievement last time around and as co-hosts in 2002.
The United misfit`s cleverness at exploiting gaps in the final third was a key factor in Japan easing through Asian qualifying to secure a fifth successive World Cup appearance in Brazil.
As unassuming off the pitch as Japan team-mate Honda is brash and outspoken, Kagawa`s treatment at United continues to baffle many.
A parody Twitter account called "Evil Kagawa" purporting to be the Japanese midfielder poking fun at Moyes in pigeon English for not picking him, has over 270,000 followers, including United team-mates Rio Ferdinand and Michael Carrick.
Should Kagawa weave his magic in Brazil and lead Japan into the last 16, a possible clash with England awaits. How ironic it would be for Kagawa to have the last laugh.