“Anything can happen at a World Cup. We're good enough now to reach the quarter-finals,” Keisuke Honda has told Japanese Press in the build-up to this summer’s competition in Brazil.
“Obviously, we all need to stay fit, but if we do the basics right - 100 per cent, no mistakes - we can get to the quarter-finals. From there, we can make miracles happen.”
After a surreal and often disappointing first six months in Italy, the Milan playmaker is clearly keen to get underway at a World Cup that could well define his career.
It’s been a whirlwind 2014 for Honda. The Japanese creative midfielder, nicknamed ‘Emperor Keisuke’ in his home country, earned his dream move to the Rossoneri in January, but a six-month period of poor form and boardroom politics at the club has since dampened enthusiasm.
Honda arrived with much fanfare as the much-needed injection of creativity and wit that the Rossoneri attack that appeared often so stagnant under Massimiliano Allegri needed.
Given the famous No 10 jersey, donned previously by the likes of Manuel Rui Costa and Ruud Gullit, Honda made his first appearance for Milan against Sassuolo, offering brief sparks in a loss that cost Honda’s new Coach his job. His new Coach, Clarence Seedorf, was another previous owner of the shirt now worn by the Asian playmaker.
As Allegri’s replacement, one of Seedorf’s main objectives was to integrate a system that made the most of the plethora of attacking players at the Rossoneri’s disposal, including Honda.
However, the Dutchman opted to play his newest player wide on the right rather than in the role behind the striker that Honda had flourished for both his national team and former club, Russian side CSKA Moscow. Often seen lost on the wing and not naturally blessed the pace that the position usually requires, the 27-year-old struggled to make an impact.
Now in Brazil preparing for the World Cup with Japan, Honda will no doubt be hoping to put a disappointing spring behind him and hope that a successful World Cup can kick-start the next phase of his career.
The Asian giants, in an interesting twist, are coached by former Milan boss Alberto Zaccheroni, whose belief in Honda’s talents remains absolute.
“You have to have patience. Even Platini and Zidane took six months to adapt to Italian football,” the former Udinese tactician remarked.
While not on the level of the Juventus heroes Zaccheroni referenced, Honda will no doubt benefit from the confidence of Zaccheroni, who will quite literally be making the attacker central to Japan’s tactics at the finals.
With a talented side featuring fellow Serie A resident Yuto Nagatomo and Manchester United midfielder Shinji Kagawa, the Samurai Blue have real hopes of making a splash in Brazil.
In a tough but winnable group alongside the Radamel Falcao-less Colombia, Euro 2004 champions Greece and the Didier Drogba-led Ivory Coast, Honda’s Japan have no reason to think they can’t progress through to at least the knock-out stages of this summer’s tournament.
As Honda’s club Milan announce their third new Coach in six months in the form of Pippo Inzaghi, a summer for the talented playmaker to prove his worth to his employers and ‘make miracles happen’ could be the all the opportunity he needs.