Nagoya Grampus Eight goalkeeper Seigo Narazaki feels he still has what it takes to dislodge Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi and reclaim Japan’s No. 1 jersey ahead of the Asian Cup.
Narazaki has been given the chance to renew his long-standing rivalry with Kawaguchi after coach Ivica Osim picked the veteran of three World Cups for the first time for the upcoming Asian Cup warm ups against Montenegro and Colombia.
Narazaki admitted that he was a little surprised at being picked for the first time since playing second fiddle to Kawaguchi at last year’s World Cup but always felt he would get another chance to force his way back into the reckoning.
“The timing of me being called up surprised me a little bit,” Narazaki told reporters earlier this week.
“But I feel I have been playing well recently and even when I wasn’t getting picked, I always felt I was in with a chance,” said the 31-year-old.
“I want to get accustomed to what the team is doing as soon as I can and then it’s just a case of trying and force my way in.”
Arguably the most technically gifted of Japan’s three goalkeepers in the Kirin Cup squad, Narazaki played in all four games as cohost Japan reached the second round of the 2002 World Cup for the first time under French coach Philippe Troussier.
However, a left knee injury sustained on a tour of Europe in 2004 opened the door for Kawaguchi, who went on to establish himself as first-choice ‘keeper under Zico after playing a major role in helping Japan defend the Asian Cup in China that year.
Narazaki only played six more times for Japan and kept just one clean sheet and conceded 13 goals, four of them in his last appearance in a 5-4 win over Honduras in September 2005.
However, he has been enjoying a solid season so far this year and five clean sheets out of eight league appearances have justified his call up by Osim, who has “selected players who have played well for a relatively long period of time, not those who have blown hot and cold in J. League matches.”
Kawaguchi was not the least bit surprised at the return of his rival. He said, “He is a quality ‘keeper and it was only a matter of time before he returned to the fold.”
One player who rates Narazaki highly is one of the most promising midfield prospects in the country, Nagoya teammate Keisuke Honda.
“I have honestly never seen a better goalkeeper than Narazaki,” said Honda.
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