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Even though his prime is way behind him, Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi is still protecting his goal with the same enthusiasm as ever.

At age 42, the former Japan international goalkeeper now plays for S.C. Sagamihara of the J. League third division, the lowest level of the domestic professional circuit.

Kawaguchi, who was selected for Japan’s World Cup finals squad for four consecutive tournaments since 1998, told The Japan Times at the J. League’s season-opening media event last month that he could never have imagined to reaching 40 as a player.

He signed with Sagamihara in 2016 following nine-year and two-year stints with Jubilo Iwata of the top division and F.C. Gifu of the second division, respectively.

But he insists he is not with the Kanagawa Prefecture club just to pass on his experience to his teammates. He always wants to be the first-choice goalkeeper.

While he admitted his career longevity was largely due to his position, Kawaguchi does not use his age as an excuse for anything. He said that he believes a professional is supposed to be “particular about being on the pitch” instead of being stuck on the bench.

Kawaguchi has won titles at the All-Japan High School Soccer Tournament for Shimizu Shogyo and the J. League with Yokohama Marinos. The Fuji, Shizuoka Prefecture, native also played for English side Portsmouth and Denmark’s F.C. Nordsjaelland in the early 2000s.

Despite his colorful career, Kawaguchi still has the fire to improve himself.

“I want to do something in Sagamihara, too. And I don’t want to end my career as it is,” said Kawaguchi, who was Japan’s goalkeeper at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, where he helped the team miraculously defeat Brazil 1-0 in their tournament opener. “That’s my biggest motivation that’s driving me.”

Kawaguchi insists that those who are associated with soccer in Japan should work harder to get bigger recognition for the game, not only from fans but also from the public.

Yet as for his own popularity, Kawaguchi does not pay it too much attention.

When asked if he misses the spotlight, the 180-cm player responded by saying it is not high on his list of priorities.

“One thing I can say is, as I now play in J3, I’ve realized I was privileged to be in a great position when I was playing for the national team and in J1,” said Kawaguchi, who has 116 caps for Japan, which places him third in the all-time appearances list. “But I’m here understanding the circumstance (of J3) now. The time I was in the spotlight was more than 10 years ago. If I feel I’m missing it, that means I don’t have the ambition to improve myself. It’s about what I can do now.

“I was honored to be getting the attention, but that’s not the most important thing to me now. What’s important is what you can do at the moment. You have to face reality and then do what you can do. So I don’t have any thoughts like that. I have accepted it.”

Sagamihara, which finished 12th with a 9-12-11 record last season, will open its 2018 campaign this Friday against Y.S.C.C. Yokohama at Nippatsu Mitsuzawa Stadium.

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