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Japan's veteran keeper Kawashima passing on experience to young team-mates

BeSoccer by BeSoccer @besoccer_com - 0 229

Pin Kawashima is the eldest man in the Japan squad. AFP
Kawashima is the eldest man in the Japan squad. AFP

Japan's veteran keeper Kawashima passing on experience to young team-mates

BeSoccer by BeSoccer @besoccer_com - 0 229

Following Japan's training session, Eiji Kawashima cut a lonely figure trotting gently around the pitch as his team-mates headed to the changing rooms at Sao Paulo FC's training complex.

The 36-year-old goalkeeper stands out amongst the youthful Japanese squad brought to Brazil to make a second appearance as guests in the Copa America. Alongside fellow veteran Shinji Okazaki, 33, Kawashima is a rarity in this 23-man squad where the average age is just 22.

In fact, when coach Hajime Moriyasu named his 23-man squad last month, it contained only six players to have already won a Japan cap. Between them, Kawashima and Okazaki have almost four times as many caps as the rest of the 21 players put together.

But the Strasbourg shot-stopper isn't taking his selection for granted with young pair Keisuke Osako (21) and Riosuke Kojima (22) chomping at the bit for their chance. Even if he doesn't play, Kawashima is ready to help whoever gets to stand between the sticks for the Blue Samurai.

"I try to tell them my experience and also it's important for Japanese football that the young goalkeepers get more experience," he told AFP. "We'll see the course and what kind of decision the coach takes, but I will try to contribute to my team."

- 'Japanese Messi' -

Japan's primary goal at this tournament is to gain experience for its under-23 team that will represent the nation at their home Olympics in Tokyo next year. Amongst their squad here is teenage sensation Takefusa Kubo.

The "Japanese Messi," as he is known, signed for Real Madrid on Friday. The 18-year-old, who was once on Barcelona's books as a child, only made his international debut last month in a 2-0 win over El Salvador.

And despite their inexperience, Japan are aiming high. "This young group needs experience, so me and Okazaki tried to give the experience to the group because it's a tough tournament," said Kawashima.

He certainly has a wealth of experience having played in the top divisions in France, Belgium and Scotland since arriving in Europe in 2010. He was also part of the Japan side that won the Asian Cup in 2011 and finished runners-up to Qatar in the United Arab Emirates earlier this year.

He's played in three World Cup tournaments, too, with Japan reaching the knock-out stages in 2010 and last year.

- Looking for experience -

Japan want to improve on their only previous showing at the Copa where they suffered two defeats and a draw in Paraguay in 1999 when eliminated from the group stages. "For sure we are going to look for the title, but we come with young players and the first goal for us is get more experience for the young players," said Kawashima.

"But we represent the Japanese national team so we will try to do the best to qualify from the group." Japan face a tough ask with champions Chile, record 15-time winners Uruguay and Ecuador in Group C.

"They have more experience than us as teams and as countries to play in this big tournament, but I think that we have to work hard. That (lack of experience) is going to be the biggest struggle for us and the young players," said Kawashima.

Since non-South American teams were first invited to take part in the Copa, none have ever won, although Mexico have twice reached the final. As for Japan's chances of going one better than that, Kawashima said: "I don't know about that, but we are going to do our best and then we will see."

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