Kagawa aiming to spark Japan
Shinji Kagawa will be aiming to build on his momentum when he leads Japan at the Confederations Cup.
Kagawa made a solid start this season at Manchester United, but a knee injury sustained in a Champions League match in October kept him out for two months.
The attacking midfielder, who scored 21 goals over two seasons with Borussia Dortmund, displayed the type of scoring potential he has with a hat-trick in United's 4-0 win against Norwich on March 2 and added a goal in Alex Ferguson's farewell match, a 5-5 draw at West Bromwich Albion in May.
Kagawa finished the season with six goals in 17 starts, far short of his personal goals. But his inspiring form late in the season bodes well for Japan as it faces Brazil, Italy and Mexico in a tough Group A at the Confederations Cup.
"I wasn't satisfied with my overall performance but I played well in the second half of the season and started to get more and more confidence," the 24-year-old Kagawa said. "Hopefully, I can keep that going at the Confederations Cup."
With his vision, technique and deft passing, Kagawa brings an offensive threat to a Japan team that has struggled to score in international competitions.
With CSKA Moscow midfielder Keisuke Honda and Inter Milan defender Yuto Nagatomo both coming off injuries, Kagawa knows he'll be under pressure to produce in Brazil.
"In this business, you need to be like (Wayne) Rooney or (Robin) van Persie and prove yourself if you want the ball," Kagawa said. "I want to be a player like them, which means I need results."
Japan's first game of the tournament will be against Brazil on Saturday. Japan has never beaten Brazil in nine meetings.
Kagawa has now won three titles in a row following two Bundesliga crowns with Borussia Dortmund. He missed out on a chance to represent Japan at the 2010 World Cup so he will be eager to impress at the Confederations Cup.
A key question in Brazil will be how Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni will use Kagawa. Kagawa played mainly as a left midfielder this season, rather than in his preferred role behind a striker.
While Honda and Nagatomo have more international experience, Kagawa is seen as the type of player who could help Japan compete against the world's elite football nations.
Ferguson said Kagawa has yet to reach his full potential.
"He missed that period of football in October and November that set him back a bit," Ferguson said. "He is gradually getting his form back but next year he will be far better. You will see a really good player then."