Japan goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima heads to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ with a clear goal to realise: to make up for their heart-breaking Round-of-16 exit at South Africa 2010.
Eight years ago, Kawashima was selected into the Japan squad as a backup to Seigo Narazaki. With the competition kicking off, though, he emerged as the surprise starting goalkeeper in preference to the first-choice custodian due to some standout performances during pre-tournament friendlies. He duly seized the opportunities, excelling throughout as the Samurai Blue progressed from a group which also featured the Netherlands, Denmark and Cameroon.
That marked Japan’s first progression to the knockout stage on foreign soil. While it’s certainly an achievement to be proud of, it was their loss against Paraguay in the second round meeting that Kawashima still laments. In fact, Kawashima and Co impressed against the South Americans by holding them goalless after 120 minutes, only to lose out 5-3 in the penalty shoot-out.
“We were so disappointed by the result in 2010,” the 35-year-old told FIFA.com in an exclusive interview. “We came so close to reaching the last eight. But in the end we missed the chance. Looking back, I think that some details made the difference and decided the result.”
A series of star players from that 2010 squad, including Kawashima, featured for Japan at Brazil 2014 where they failed to progress beyond the group stage. Four years on, these same cogs remain in the experienced core of the current squad heading to their third FIFA World Cup. Kawashima believes that they won’t let the chance slip away this time around.
“The current team have more experienced players than before,” he said. “Several of us will play in our third World Cup. Meanwhile, there are a host of young players who have made fast progress. These youngsters boast greater confidence. So with a mix of experienced veterans and talented youth players, I am confident that we are capable of making history in Russia.”
Japan will open their Russia 2018 campaign by reacquainting themselves with none other than group favourites Colombia, who dealt them their final blow at Brazil 2014 in a 4-1 defeat. Beyond them lie encounters with Senegal and Poland. Despite the daunting tasks ahead, Kawashima maintains that they have got themselves prepared to fare better than four years ago.
“I think this group is wide open and each team have chances of their own. Our group goals are simple – to concentrate on how to progress to the next round. We didn’t perform well in the last World Cup in Brazil so we are particularly motivated to do our job better this time,” he added.
The common view is that an goalkeeper’s value increases over the years like a vintage wine. So it is with Kawashima, who remains Japan’s undisputed No1 even though he is the oldest member of the squad.
“I am fortunate to have contributed to the national team for so many years. Now I am the oldest of the team. As a veteran, I will try to lead the team in a positive way and to get the best possible results.”