Eiji Kawashima, currently the number one goalkeeper for the Japanese men’s national football team, is a soccer pioneer for his nation in many ways. He is the first Japanese player to land a spot and play in Belgium’s top flight, the Jupiler League, a league known more for its connections to African and South American football. More notably, he is also only the second Asian goalkeeper to play in Europe, surviving in a football environment where European goalkeepers have the natural advantage of better training and footballing roots. Because of this pioneering attitude, Kawashima is positive that more Japanese players plying trade in Europe could only mean positive things for Japanese football.
In the recently concluded Confederations Cup in Brazil, the traditional “dry run” a year before the World Cup Finals, many noticed the increasing number of Japanese footballers who play in Europe, including Manchester United’s Shinji Kagawa, Inter Milan’s Yuto Nagatomo, and Keisuke Honda of CSKA Moscow among others. Kawashima says that this may push Japanese football to a higher level. “Picking up European experience gives a player something different,” the Standard Liege goalkeeper said. “For my career, it’s been fundamental,” Kawashima added. He says that while Japanese football is improving, Belgium’s footballing culture is far more established. He points to the better training methods in Belgium as the main reasons why he has become a better footballer, and stronger mentally.
Japan’s performance in the Confed Cup was a disappointment to him, but on the whole, Kawashima says that there are a lot of positives to pick up and that the coaching staff of the Samurai Blue – led by Alberto Zaccheroni – have pinpointed some points for improvement. “We can’t be happy with the results, but it was a good experience,” Kawashima said. “Even though we lost all three games I think we can take some positives. I think that for us, it was important to know where we stand globally, and to find out what we need to work on,” he added. “I think a good analysis has been made and what comes next is working hard to make sure we go back to Brazil and the World Cup in the best form possible.”