Shinji Kagawa learns value of true grit with Japan
Japan are currently gearing up for the Confederations Cup, ahead of Saturday's opening game with hosts Brazil in the tournament curtain-raiser in Brasilia. As well as Brazil, Japan must also contend with the might of Italy and Mexico in Group A, but Kagawa says the Asian champions need to start measuring themselves against the very best.
Manchester United midfielder Shinji Kagawa says Japan's hard-fought campaign to qualify for next year's World Cup has given him a better appreciation of what it takes to succeed at the top level.
Japan became the first country to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil when they drew 1-1 with Australia last week, but it was a success that was 21 gruelling months in the making.
Kagawa also endured a challenging first season at English champions United following his switch from Borussia Dortmund last year, flitting in and out of the side, but he believes such trials will only make him stronger.
"Natural ability is an essential element of football, but I realised during the final qualifiers that playing hard until the final whistle and not giving up are just as important," he said.
"Going through those tough games at home and away really underlined that point to me. It was a valuable experience that I'll use as I build to next year's World Cup."
Japan are currently gearing up for the Confederations Cup, ahead of Saturday's opening game with hosts Brazil in the tournament curtain-raiser in Brasilia.
As well as Brazil, Japan must also contend with the might of Italy and Mexico in Group A, but Kagawa says the Asian champions need to start measuring themselves against the very best.
"Our opponents are all excellent teams, so this will be a good gauge of how we can perform away from home with a year to go until the World Cup," the 24-year-old told the FIFA website.
"We need this sort of preparation, and I want to see how we handle the atmosphere and how far we can go.
"We're going there to win, so the question will be how we can achieve that. That's my mindset going into this tournament."
Uruguay, world and European champions Spain, Nigeria and Tahiti complete the Confederations Cup line-up, and Kagawa says he finds the prospect of playing such sides inspiring, rather than daunting.
"All the teams have many fantastic players, and each team has its own individual style," he added.
"Our defence and attack need to be in sync, and even then we won't win unless we work hard. But this is why I play the game, and I can't wait to get stuck in."
Kagawa was not awarded a place in the Japan squad that reached the last 16 at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, but Yuto Nagatomo, who was, feels the current group has the necessary experience to go even further.
Several of the squad play for well-known European clubs, and the Inter Milan left-back hopes that savoir-faire will help Alberto Zaccheroni's side break new ground in the international arena.
"Compared with the previous World Cup, Japan has more defenders and forwards playing regularly abroad, and I think we've developed a lot," he said.
"We aren't at the same level as the powers of world football. We need to all work very hard, and that includes me.
"We're aiming to win the Confederations Cup and want to show the world what we're capable of."