Retiring Keisuke Honda backs next generation to lead Japan forward

Gabriel Tan Gabriel Tan

Iconic midfielder Keisuke Honda believes he leaves Japan in good hands after calling time on his international career following the end of their 2018 FIFA World Cup campaign.

Honda was part of the Japan side that produced a valiant effort in Monday’s Round of 16 tie at the Rostov Arena, as they took a shock 2-0 lead against heavily-fancied Belgium before succumbing to a 3-2 defeat.

The Belgians scored a 94th-minute winner through Nacer Chadli just moments after Honda nearly put the Samurai Blue ahead with a ferocious 35-yard freekick, as the Asian side threatened to produce another massive upset at Russia 2018.

Despite the heartbreaking manner of the defeat, Honda – who signs off with 98 caps in an 11-year international career – believes the future is bright for Japan.

“Today [Monday] we showed how we can proceed as Japanese football,” said the former AC Milan star, according to the Asian Football Confederation’s official website.

“I might have finished my career for the national team but I’m happy because we have many young players following us and I think that they will make new history for Japanese football.”

Referencing Japan’s previous Round of 16 appearance in 2010, when they were eliminated by Paraguay on penalties, Honda added: “That time, more than 90 percent [of our team] were playing in Japan and only three or four players were playing in Europe.

“That time, we played long ball and we couldn’t keep the ball and we couldn’t create chances. We can’t compare the game against Paraguay and today.

“We were not afraid to play against Belgium and we showed that for 90 minutes, but unfortunately we couldn’t win the game. Belgium deserved to win the game and they played well as well.

“But I’m proud of the team because the starting members played really aggressively and I think all of the Japanese people are proud of us so I’m satisfied with the team.

“On the other hand, I had the chance to score and my team-mates expected that I would score after I was substituted. I couldn’t get the result myself and that’s bad.”

Honda is expected to be the first of many Japan stalwarts to call it a day on the international scene either now or after next January’s 2019 AFC Asian Cup, with the likes of Makoto Hasebe, Shinji Okazaki and Yuto Nagatomo all now in their 30s and slowly but surely reaching the end of what have been illustrious careers.