There was a time when David Beckham was the second most recognised foreign name in Japan after Coca-Cola but these days they have their own hero; another footballer not afraid of a sharp haircut and a bit of bleach. One of Keisuke Honda's principal attractions is his sheer versatility. Since making his name with Nagoya Grampus Eight, he has played anywhere from left-back to centre-forward, although it was not until his international manager, Takeshi Okada, shifted him into a more attacking role that he and Japan began to shine.
When moving from Nagoya to the Dutch club Velno, Honda gained a reputation for scoring spectacular goals – like the free-kick in Rustenburg that left Thomas Sorensen floundering in Japan's 3-1 win over Denmark that saw them through to the knockout stages for the first time outside their own country.
But, perhaps his finest moment in this World Cup came not with a goal but with an assist in the same game. He picked up the ball on the edge of the Denmark box and executed a delightful turn to beat his defender and find space in the area. Many a player would have shot at goal but, with an onrushing Sorensen looming large, Honda had the audacity, vision and ability to cut the ball back to Shinji Okazaki, who slotted into an empty net. The move sealed victory for Japan, who were just 2-1 up at the time and trying to hold back the Danish advances.
In December, Honda's talents earned him a €6m (£4.9m) transfer to Russia and CSKA Moscow which provided him with a foothold in the Champions League. He is the Blue Samurai's one unquestioned star and when they returned from Rustenburg to their base in George by the Indian Ocean, hundreds of fans from the neighbouring township of Lawaai-kamp gathered to greet Honda – all shouting his name. It was the kind of treatment Beckham used to get.Reuse content