KAZAN, RUSSIA - Having won a slew of trophies with Russian powerhouse CSKA Moscow, this World Cup is a happy homecoming of sorts for Keisuke Honda.
Honda, who joined CSKA in January 2010, helped the team win back-to-back first-division titles in 2013 and 2014. It also captured two Russian Cups and a Russian Super Cup before he departed for AC Milan in January 2014.
Now playing for Mexican first-division side Pachuca, Honda said he is looking forward to once again performing in front of fans who witnessed some of his best moments at club level.
“I had a lot of good memories in Russia, so I’m happy to be here,” the 32-year-old said.
“Of course, I want to show (that) I’m back. (For) a long time, the Russian fans, they haven’t seen my performances, so I hope I play well against Colombia.”
The South Americans await Japan in Saransk on Tuesday, when they will play a rematch of their 2014 group-stage contest which Colombia won 4-1.
The opening Group H match will be crucial in setting the tone for the rest of the tournament, according to Honda, who looked at risk of missing selection under previous Samurai Blue head coach Vahid Halilhodzic.
Along with fellow veterans Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki, Honda appeared to have fallen out of favor with the Bosnian, who was sensationally fired by the Japan Football Association two months before the World Cup, following an extended run of poor results.
The big-name trio came back into the fold under Halilhodzic’s successor, former JFA technical director Akira Nishino.
Honda said he enjoyed watching some of his former CSKA teammates perform well for Russia on TV in the host nation’s 5-0 victory over Saudi Arabia in the tournament curtain-raiser on Thursday.
He was particularly happy to see veteran defender Sergey Ignashevich, whose selection for the tournament at age 38 came as no surprise to the Pachuca midfielder.
“(I’m not surprised) because I knew he was a great professional player. He deserves to play in the World Cup still,” Honda said.
“It’s a pity (former CSKA teammate Alan) Dzagoev got injured. I hope he’s back soon. Otherwise, they won 5-0. It was a perfect game for them.”
For Honda to play a World Cup match in his old stomping ground of Moscow, the Samurai Blue must reach the knockout stage of the tournament. It is an outcome few experts predict, but one which the midfielder says he is determined to make happen.
“I look forward to playing there as soon as possible,” he said.