“We’re confident at the moment,” Kagawa said following training on Sunday ahead of the clash against World No 3 Belgium at the Rostov Arena. “We’ve been making the finer adjustments as we’ve come along.
“We have a chance to accomplish what Japanese football has never done before. We’re trying to go where none of us have gone before and I really hope we can achieve what we set out to achieve.”
Akira Nishino’s men set themselves up for the Belgium tie after finishing runners-up to Colombia in Group H despite a 1-0 loss to Poland on Thursday.
Japan have reached the knockout phase of the FIFA World Cup twice before in 2002 and 2010. On both occasions, they were narrowly eliminated in the Round of 16 and Japan is praying the third time will finally be the charm.
Kagawa, rested and ready after sitting out the Poland game and starting the first two matches against Colombia and Senegal, is taking it upon himself to help Japan try to stun Belgium, one of the favorites of this FIFA World Cup.
The Dortmund playmaker is coming off a performance in the 2-2 draw to Senegal during which he had zero shots and wants to make up for what he felt was a flat outing from himself.
“I didn’t take a single shot. I need to get back into the vital area with the ball at my feet. It’s important to the team that I do, and unless I take it upon myself to do so I don’t see ourselves having too many opportunities,” the two-time World Cup star said.
Japan played Belgium – who topped Group G over England with the maximum nine points – in a November friendly in Brussels which they lost 1-0 under Nishino’s predecessor Vahid Halilhodzic.
Kagawa said Japan have learned a thing or two about Roberto Martinez’s side from that defeat and hope to put it into practice on Monday.
“They seem to start games slowly based on what I’ve seen, including that friendly,” said Kagawa, who was not called up for the game back in November. “Things like that we have been talking about amongst the team and it’s something we need to take advantage of.
“We need to show them we’re not going to be easy with so much at stake here. Be it 50-50s or chasing down loose balls, we have to show them the underdogs are prepared to put up a fight.
“They’re not a team we will be able to beat easily. If and when things don’t go our way, we need to persevere and stick to the gameplan. The way I look at it, we’ve got 120 minutes to figure them out and we need to stay focused throughout the match.”
Photos: FIFA via Getty Images, AFP