Japan playmaker Shinji Kagawa is desperate to play a starring role at the World Cup in Brazil after the heartbreak of being left out of his country's squad four years ago.
The 25-year-old said on Saturday he had been devastated by his 2010 omission, and promised to hit the ground running in Japan's opening game against Ivory Coast on June 14, despite a frustrating season at Manchester United.
“Obviously I didn't get to play at the World Cup in South Africa four years ago,” Kagawa told reporters after an open training session on the outskirts of Tokyo.
“I felt bitterly disappointed but it made me determined to play a central role for Japan at the next World Cup.
“Being left out wasn't ideal but it gave me the motivation to move to Europe and to play with the top teams in the world,” added Kagawa, twice a German Bundersliga champion with Borussia Dortmund. “It drove me.”
Kagawa admitted to having mixed feelings watching the Blue Samurai reach the final 16 at the last World Cup, where Takeshi Okada's side were beaten on penalties by Paraguay.
“Of course I was genuinely happy Japan did well,” he said. “But it hurt not being out there on the pitch.
“I haven't played as much for my club this year as I would have liked so I don't feel as though my body has hit its peak yet. If I can stay fit and avoid injury I should be at my absolute peak at the World Cup.”
Having Kagawa firing on all cylinders will be a huge boost to current Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni as the Italian bids to advance from Group C, which also includes Greece and Colombia.
“I feel very relaxed,” added Kagawa, dressed in jeans and a T-shirt. “We have a lot of players with experience of playing big games in Europe. It's all about keeping focused and being ready for the first match. This is what four years of hard work comes down to.”
Asked if there had been any World Cup banter in the Old Trafford dressing room, Kagawa joked that he and his United team-mates, who finished a disastrous seventh in the Premier League, might have been slightly distracted by the thought of the upcoming tournament.
“All the players have obviously been getting ready for the World Cup for quite a while,” he said with a sheepish grin. “We've been looking forward to it.”
His own future in Manchester something of a doubt, Kagawa is on a mission to show that Japan deserve to be treated with respect by soccer's traditional powers.
“One or two of the lads at United were saying Japan have a decent chance of getting out of the group,” he said. “But apart from maybe Keisuke (Honda) and Yuto (Nagatomo), they don't really know any Japanese players.”
“People don't really rate Japan so it's up to us to change those views by making an impact at the World Cup,” he added.
Kagawa helped fire Japan to their fifth successive World Cup in an impressive qualifying campaign, and Zaccheroni's side will be quietly confident of reaching the knockout stages for a third time.
“It's a chance to prove people wrong,” said Kagawa. “To show big clubs that the J-League can produce top players. I want to show the world what we're about.”– AFP