Kagawa hoping for central role
Shinji Kagawa (AFP)
Cuiaba - Two years ago Shinji Kagawa seemingly had the world at his feet, earning a big-money move to Manchester United after an impressive stint with German giants Borussia Dortmund.
Coming to Brazil he had the chance to be the main man again after a season of struggles in England under the now-departed David Moyes, during which he was a bit-part player in a disastrous campaign.
But after featuring in Japan's opening 2-1 defeat to Ivory Coast, coach Alberto Zaccheroni left the 25-year-old out of the starting line-up for the following game against Greece.
He came on in the second half but was unable to break the deadlock as the Blue Samurai drew 0-0 with 10-man Greece, a result that leaves their World Cup fate out of their own hands in Group C.
Kagawa has made 59 international appearances and scored 19 goals, but plays second fiddle in the international set-up to blond-haired talisman Keisuke Honda.
He admitted that he deserved to be benched against Greece after a sub-par performance, according to Kyodo News.
"I thought there was some possibility that I might not start but I was ready to accept that.
"I wasn't convinced with the way I played (against Ivory Coast) and neither was the coach," said Kagawa, who wears the number 10 shirt for Japan.
Renowned as a clever player with the ability to unlock defences and an eye for goal, Kagawa tends to play on the left side for club and country but in Dortmund he was mostly used just behind the front line.
His coach in Germany, Jurgen Klopp, last year spoke of his pain at how he felt his technically gifted former charge was being played out of position by his club.
"Shinji Kagawa is one of the best players in the world and he now plays 20 minutes at Manchester United -- on the left wing! My heart breaks. Really, I have tears in my eyes," he told Britain's Guardian newspaper.
"Central midfield is Shinji's best role. He's an offensive midfielder with one of the best noses for goal I ever saw. But for most Japanese people it means more to play for Man United than Dortmund."
A group of Dortmund fans even set up a campaign called "Free Shinji Kagawa" in a bid to "rescue" him from Manchester United.
Born in Kobe, Kagawa signed for Cerezo Osaka in 2006 while still at high school and was instrumental in the team's promotion to the J-League's top flight.
He was omitted from Japan's 2010 World Cup squad, but travelled to South Africa as a "supporting member", moving to Germany that year, where he won consecutive Bundesliga crowns.
Kagawa, signed by the now retired Alex Ferguson on a four-year deal in 2012, has played 56 times for United in two seasons, scoring six goals.
Despite being part of the title winning team in his first season - the third league trophy in as many years having won it twice with Dortmund - he has been a largely peripheral figure, failing to hold down a starting place amid competition from the likes of Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata.
Last season he did not find the net once.
Japan still have a chance to reach the last 16 in Brazil but must beat group leaders Colombia in Cuiaba on Tuesday and hope the result between Greece and Ivory Coast goes their way.
Kagawa undoubtedly has the ability to shape the team's destiny in Brazil. He will be hoping he is given the chance to do so.