Along with Shinji Kagawa, Keisuke Honda has been spearheading Japan’s attack in recent years. Honda’s versatility and appetite for goals have made the attacking midfielder a key figure in the national team.
After starting out with Nagoya Grampus, Honda transferred to Dutch club VVV-Venlo in 2008. However, the team was relegated from the Eredivisie that season and Honda was also unable to prevent Japan from slumping to three consecutive defeats at the Beijing Olympics that summer. Despite these deflating results, Honda performed well enough to be selected for the Samurai Blue for the first time.
Honda had a much better year in 2009, when his prolific scoring helped Venlo gain promotion back to the top tier, only to be transferred CSKA Moscow in 2010. He appeared in the UEFA Champions League that season and scored a left-footed free-kick that helped defeat Sevilla and carried CSKA to the quarter-finals.
Before the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, left-footed midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura had been the linchpin of Japan’s team. But just before the tournament, coach Takeshi Okada boldly decided to build his side around Honda instead. Although the latter had primarily been a central midfielder or winger, he was assigned the role of the lone centre-forward. Honda repaid the faith shown in him by scoring the only goal in a win over Cameroon and a long-range free-kick in their 3-1 victory over Denmark in the group stage. His eye-catching performances would help Japan reach the Round of 16, equalling their best result at a FIFA World Cup.
Since then, Honda has been an automatic selection for Japan, and was integral to the team’s successful campaign at the 2011 AFC Asian Cup.
The player’s ability to retain possession and pass with precision complement his fearsome long-distance shooting and skill from set-plays, making him a frequent choice for free-kicks. Strong and well-balanced, few doubt he has all the attributes needed to be a top-class forward.
Honda is also not afraid to speak his mind, even publicly declaring that Japan would win the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil. If his prediction is to come true, then the FIFA Confederations Cup will be an important stepping stone along the way.