Shinji Kagawa’s frustrations continue at the World Cup

by Sam Peoples

Manchester United’s Shinji Kagawa endured a continuation of the disappointment that has plagued his season as Japan were beaten in their opening Group C game.

Ivory Coast responded to Keisuke Honda’s stunning early strike with two quickfire goals of their own after the hour mark to ensure the Samurai Blue were left with plenty to mull over as they attempt to plot a path to the last 16.

Admittedly, the Elephants could easily be seen as their biggest obstacle and in the early offing, they dealt with the Ivorians strength well. Honda’s 16th minute strike was stunning when he collected Shinji Okazaki’s pass inside the penalty area before lashing the ball into the top corner beyond Boubacar Barry.

Unfortunately, Alberto Zaccheroni’s men failed to build on their advantage and the introduction of Didier Drogba with half an hour left gave his side fresh impetus after Wilfried Bony had spurned a number of presentable opportunities.

Serge Aurier’s delicious delivery was met with a diving header from the Swansea striker before the Toulouse right-back found Gervinho two minutes later in similar circumstances. Eiji Kawashima should have done better with the former-Arsenal man’s strike but in truth, Japan struggled to respond, with Drogba twice coming close to adding to their advantage late on.

It’s perhaps no disservice to suggest that Kagawa was relishing the link-up with his national team this summer, a side in which he is guaranteed his position and to start big games almost without question. Unfortunately, his side simply didn’t do enough to trouble Ivory Coast after taking the lead, let alone after losing it.

Kagawa struggled to have much of an effect on proceedings with Honda’s strike and Atsuto Uchida’s mazy run and slow strike the best that the Samurai Blue could offer whilst the former-Dortmund man continued to probe ineffectively.

Suggesting there was some sort of hangover from his exploits from United might be a touch harsh considering that few in a blue shirt shone in Recife. The Ivorians made their physical advantage count and gave Bony and Drogba far more to feed on than their counterparts but given how Mexico frequently overwhelmed Cameroon with their energy and desire, despite their strength, Kagawa and Japan will need to up their game against Greece and Columbia if they hope to progress.

Kagawa’s performance, and an unsettling tendency to neglect the defensive side of his game, did not go unnoticed.

An immediate response will be needed against the Euro 2004 champions on Thursday, but of greater concern to Zaccheroni will be how little fight his side showed in their Group C debut.

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