Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni believes Borussia Dortmund sensation Shinji Kagawa will prove his goalscoring clout when push comes to shove at the AFC Asian Cup.
"He has been sacrificing himself to play well for the team," the 57-year-old said as his side geared up for a quarter-final with hosts Qatar on Friday. "The only thing he lacks is a goal. "He is improving. I believe he will score at a more crucial point in the tournament."
Kagawa has scored eight Bundesliga goals in 17 games after moving to Borussia Dortmund from J.League team Cerezo Osaka last summer. He failed to make Takeshi Okada's squad for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
The 21-year-old was named the German top flight's most valuable player in the first half of the season, but his gun has remained silent on the continental stage as Japan recorded two straight wins after a 1-1 draw with Jordan.
"What I really want the most is to score a goal," said Kagawa, whose pinpoint cross allowed Shinji Okazawa to score the second of his three goals in Japan's 5-0 rout of fellow three-time champions Saudi Arabia on Monday. "I could not create decisive chances in front of goal. It was because I was short on technique or was pressed too hard."
The Samurai Blue, beefed up by eight Europe-based players, including CSKA Moscow midfielder Keisuke Honda, are preparing to fight Qatar and their home supporters. And Kagawa's German experience may prove helpful on the occasion.
The ever-smiling Japanese youngster bagged a brace in a 3-1 away win over arch-rivals Schalke in September, shutting up many of the 60,000 spectators and confirming himself as a favourite among the Dortmund supporters. "Yes, I am," he replied when asked he was ready to explode in the Qatar match.
With Honda on the bench with a sprained left ankle, Japan overwhelmed the hapless Saudis 5-0 in the final group game, with Okazaki's hat-trick and a brace from two-time J.League top scorer Ryoichi Maeda. But Honda, who scored two goals in South Africa, warned against any optimism.
"Almost all of our goals came from crosses," the 24-year-old said. "I must say we did not move tightly together and our scoring patterns are limited."