Rising star Shinji Kagawa is hoping to emulate Lionel Messi stylistically and fire Japan to AFC Asian Cup glory. "I will aim to become a No10 who can score goals. Just like Messi," the 21-year-old said.
Kagawa has scored eight goals in 17 games after moving to Borussia Dortmund from J-League outfit Cerezo Osaka last summer, when he failed to make Takeshi Okada's squad for the FIFA World Cup™. Japan reached the Round of 16 at the tournament.
Alberto Zaccheroni, who took over from Okada in September, has said he would not fix the coveted No10 jersey on any single player. Many had believed it would be handed to CSKA Moscow's Keisuke Honda, a star of South Africa 2010, from Shunsuke Nakamura, who retired from international duty after the competition.
"I want to win the Asian Cup and keep the momentum going into the Bundesliga, making it a fulfilling year there," said Kagawa, who has reportedly interested Spanish clubs Villarreal and Atletico Madrid.
But Kagawa admitted it would not be easy to score against Group B rivals Jordan, Syria and Saudi Arabia. "I think they will defend deep," he said. "But if we keep on fighting patiently for 90 minutes, chances will definitely present themselves. We've been practicing how to create space. I expect difficult games ahead of us but we will fight patiently."
The Samurai Blue lost to fellow three-time champions Saudi Arabia in the Asian Cup semi-finals in 2007, failing to lift a third-straight title. For Kagawa, Qatar is a happy hunting ground as he was a member of Japan's squad that won an U-19 international tournament here three years ago.
But Doha is remembered by many Japanese supporters as the place where they were held 2-2 by Iraq in stoppage time in their last qualifier for the 1994 FIFA World Cup. Japan failed to qualify and had to wait four more years to make their debut on the big stage.
Zaccheroni's team have been practicing at the Al Ahli Stadium, the scene of the historic defeat remembered by the Japanese as the 'tragedy of Doha'. "I have no particular feeling about it," said Kagawa, who was four years old at the time.