Self-critical Shibasaki spurring Samurai Blue
Gaku Shibasaki has been starring for Japan at Russia 2018
The midfielder, though, has identified several areas for improvement
Japan only need to avoid defeat against Poland to qualify from Group H
By Hidetoshi Suzuki with Japan
Although it is his first FIFA World Cup™, Gaku Shibasaki has wasted no time in making an impact in Russia.
The Samurai Blue No7 has been deployed alongside skipper Makoto Hasebe in a deeper midfield role in Akira Nishino's 4-2-3-1 set-up. But rather than being content with a holding role, Shibasaki has popped up everywhere, contributing in defence, attack and drifting out to the wings.
Indeed, while the hero of the 2-2 draw with Senegal might have been Takashi Inui - scorer of Japan's first and provider of their second - Shibasaki has a strong claim to having been the team's best player in each of their games so far. And, encouragingly for Nishino, he insists he can play much better.
“I am not satisfied with my performances at all," he told FIFA.com. "I believe I can do more. I can help the team improve our ball possession rate. And in our attacking play, I can support and assist much more when I get the ball from my team-mates.
"Also, when we use the long ball, I must try to be there to pick up the second ball. I will also be more careful about the risks I take in controlling midfield”
The calmness and humility with which Shabasaki analysed the game and his own performance was remarkable, particularly as it seemed to most observers that he had been near-perfect. But when it was put to him that his passing accuracy had been worthy of praise, he responded immediately and unequivocally.
“I'm not satisfied at all in that respect either," he insisted. "If I could have been more accurate with my passes, the game might have been different for us.” With such an attitude, it's clear that this is a player holding himself to the highest of standards.
Confidence, though, is also important, particularly at a World Cup, and Shabasaki drew encouragement from his team's well-worked goals. “Our first was a really nice one and something that we were trying hard to do," he said. "We were able to use the space behind Senegal's defence; it was a goal we had planned and imagined as a team.
"The second goal was also good. We were able to cause problems down both flanks and, again, use the spaces. The team has gained something good from those goals because, unlike in the first game, both came from open play. Now we need to take that on to the Poland match and get the result we need to reach the knockout rounds."