SOROCABA, Brazil (AP) — One is a bleach blond dynamo who combines street muscle with a creative touch. The other is a featherweight who darts in and out of impossible spaces wearing a mischievous grin.
Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa are Japan's biggest stars — and the heart of their team's attack.
Both are coming off disappointing seasons with their European clubs, Honda at AC Milan and Kagawa at Manchester United. Honda fell far below the hype that accompanied him when he left CSKA Moscow in January to be Milan's new No. 10. Kagawa had a season of frustration at Old Trafford as he struggled to get playing time under new manager David Moyes.
That could be a worry for Japan as the players prepare for the World Cup, hoping to make the knockout stages. It could also be an advantage: Low expectations, fresh legs and, above all, something to prove may be a winning formula for this duo in Brazil.
"The important stuff starts from now," Kagawa told reporters after Japan's first training session in Sorocaba, Brazil on Sunday. "All my body is thinking about is the first game."
If Honda and Kagawa find their form at the World Cup, they will cause trouble for their opponents.
Both are creative players who have an almost clairvoyant understanding of one another. The pinpoint passing and flowing attacks that have become the signature of Italian coach Alberto Zaccheroni's Japan are orchestrated by these two complementary talents.
"Honda is so physical and dynamic," said Japan-based football writer Andrew McKirdy. "And players like Kagawa who are very nimble and sharp . can profit from feeding off Honda's movements."
The players' struggles this season were not entirely of their own making.
Honda arrived at a Milan in turmoil. The one-time formidable champions were languishing in the middle of the Serie A table. Adding to the challenge of adjusting to a new league in mid-season, Milan sacked manager Massimiliano Allegri the day Honda made his Italian league debut.
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