Japan had a pretty bumpy time coming into the 2010 World Cup; having never won a World Cup match outside of their home country, the team needed a confidence boost before the tournament kicked off. Friendlies were arranged against four teams in the run up to the showpiece event, with the Blue Samurai hoping to get some morale-boosting victories and take some form with them to South Africa.
As it turned out, they conceded nine goals and registered just one for themselves. It wasn't looking good at all for the Japanese, who had also been drawn into arguably one of the toughest groups on paper, and the Japanese public were angered by the poor performances.
As any fan who has followed them throughout the group stage of the tournament will tell you, they look a completely different team. One man in particular has been credited with the sudden confident performances the Asian side have shown.
Keisuke Honda began his career in his homeland, on the books of Gamba Osaka's youth team. The club decided against promoting him to senior ranks, so he continued playing football for his high school, as many Japanese players do before turning professional.
His talent was finally spotted by J-League club Nagoya Grampus Eight, and they signed him while he was still a student. Honda broke into Grampus' first team as a 19-year-old, and quickly became an important player for them, scoring some vital goals from the left wing as well as adding many assists.
It was this form that drew the attention of some small European clubs, and after turning 21, Honda moved to Holland and signed for struggling Eredivisie side VVV-Venlo in the January transfer window.
Despite suffering relegation, Honda won instant promotion back to the top-tier with the club in his first full season, and quickly became a fan favourite after scoring 16 league goals from midfield and adding an abundance of assists.
It became obvious to Dutch spectators that Venlo had found themselves a rough diamond in Honda, and inevitable interest from bigger clubs appeared, but the man from Japan opted to stay in Venlo for their return to the Eredivisie.
A promotion to club captain was succeeded by some fantastic performances in the Eredivisie, as well as some spectacular goals.
He scored against PSV Eindhoven as well as adding an audacious back-heeled assist to earn minnows Venlo a 3-3 draw with the dutch giants. Against FC Utrecht, Honda scored an unbelievable 30-yard shot in the dying minutes to again earn his team a valuable point.
These performances brought serious interest from big teams such as Ajax, PSV Eindhoven, Liverpool, and Aston Villa; Honda nonetheless reaffirmed his desire to remain in the Netherlands, stating he enjoyed the quiet surroundings.
However, in January 2010 Honda finally made the move to a big European club. CSKA Moscow had been rumoured to have been tracking the Japanese playmaker for a while, and Venlo reluctantly accepted a bid for their captain and star player.
Despite joining CSKA during the Russian offseason, Honda still made waves in the Champions League for the club. A daring yet rather fortuitous free-kick against Spanish powerhouses Sevilla ensured a win for CSKA and a matchup with eventual winners Internazionale in the quarterfinals.
Fast-forward to the World Cup in South Africa and Honda has been picked out by many analysts and critics as a star performer, not least for his fantastic showing against Denmark in Japan's crucial last game of Group E.
Scoring one audacious Ronaldo-esque 35-yard free kick and brilliantly setting up the final goal in a 3-1 rout , Keisuke not only made sure his nation qualified for the next stage but also had fans over the world purring over his brilliant performance.
He's no one-trick pony either; in the Denmark game he earned his second man-of-the-match award of the tournament, after his game winning-goal against Cameroon earlier in the competition.
Despite only joining the Moscow club in January, you have to wonder where Honda will be playing his football next season. There looks like being plenty of potential suitors, but will the humble, quiet playmaker fancy a move to the hustle and bustle of the Premier League or La Liga?
CSKA look to have got an absolute bargain with the €6 million they paid for him, and no doubt they'll be looking to at least triple that figure if anyone were to swoop for their Japanese star.
Honda has been called the "best player to come out of Asia since Nakata" from some sections of the media. Judging on his current performances, it's an injustice. Keisuke Honda could be the best player to come out of Asia, period.
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