While Eiji Kawashima has established himself as Japan’s premier goalkeeper and now plays for Standard Liege in Belgium, his career did not have the most auspicious of starts.


Born and raised in the football stronghold of Saitama Prefecture just north of Tokyo, Kawashima was not picked up by local team Urawa Reds. Another Saitama team, Omiya Ardija, signed him in 2001, and some sparkling performances coming through the youth ranks seemingly had him on a path to the top.


However, when Kawashima transferred to Nagoya Grampus in 2004, his progress was blocked by Seigo Narazaki, a goalkeeper who played at the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™. Kawashima was unable to dislodge his more-experienced rival, and he moved to Kawasaki Frontale in 2007 to get more game time. This switch brought almost instant success as Kawashima made his international debut the following year.


The custodian really came of age at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa. He replaced Narazaki in the starting line-up and was inspirational during the group stage, pulling off a string of acrobatic saves and constantly urging his team-mates on. In the Round of 16 fixture against Paraguay, Kawashima did not concede a goal during 120 minutes of regulation and extra time, but was unable to prevent Japan losing on penalties. Following his success at the FIFA World Cup, he would join Belgian outfit Lierse later that year.


At the 2011 AFC Asian Cup, Kawashima saved two penalties against Korea Republic in the semi-final shoot-out, and helped keep Australia scoreless in the final where Japan won 1-0 to book a place at the FIFA Confederations Cup 2013.


A fluent speaker of English, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese, Kawashima is also very vocal on the field. A major influence on his goalkeeping style was Italian legend Gianluigi Buffon, whom he closely watched while he was briefly in Italy early in his career. It must be certain that Kawashima will be eagerly awaiting Japan’s match with the Azzurri on 19 June.