You'd be easily forgiven for not knowing who Keisuke Honda is, but the reality is you probably do. The memory of him scoring this spectacular goal is likely buried somewhere deep in your subconscious.
After his electric performance against Italy and the fact that overnight he's become a major target for the likes of Manchester United and AC Milan means his story warrants some attention. His emergence as another world class Asian footballer also raises the possibility of a wealth of untapped footballing talent buried on a continent of over 4 billion people.
His story is a fascinating one indeed. Here's a player who only 4 years ago was earning a living playing second division football in the Dutch Ereidivisie. But having been part of the Japanese National youth set up, his performances in the 2008 Beijing Olympics eventually led to a call up to the senior national team soon afterwards.
As followers mainly of premiership and other European leagues most UK football fans overlook, ignore or dismiss football leagues in Asia. For the most part it's justified as standards are much lower. However imagine for a moment if Ronaldo or Gareth Bale were born in Kyoto or Hong Kong? Would they ever get a chance to develop into world class players?
Seeing clips of Honda playing in the J-League, his talent is apparent but very easy to dismiss. This is the J league after all, it's meant to be easy isn't it? But aren't these players just making the best of what they have? Isn't there a possibility that there is a Messi or a Neymar playing in a league somewhere in Asia?
The answer, whatever it maybe is irrelevant, what's relevant is whoever advised Honda to move abroad had a practical outlook on life. An outlook that could soon see him realize a dream he probably had back in 2005 when he made his debut for Nagoya Grampus Eight in the J league. A dream of someday playing for AC Milan or Manchester United. A dream that is now a very real possibility.
After helping VVV-Venlo to promotion to the top tier of Dutch football Honda left the Dutch side as somewhat of a club legend. Nick named Kaiser Keisuke, his goals and dribbling skills endeared him not only to Dutch fans but also impressed scouts from CSKA Moscow who signed the attacking midfielder in 2010.
The lure of the Champions League was probably one of the main reasons Honda chose to join CSKA Moscow in 2010. It turned out to be another great career choice for the Japanese playmaker. The experience of playing in the competition further improved his technical ability as he helped CSKA progress to the knockout stages from a group which included Manchester United. It was when his free kick against Sevilla helped secure a quarter final tie against Inter Milan that European football fans like myself, really stood up and took notice for the first time. In this interview with UEFA Champions League magazine he spoke of realizing his dream of playing at the San Siro.
Having made his debut for the full International team in 2008 he'd already notched up 4 goals in 12 appearances before announcing himself on the biggest stage at the World Cup in South Africa. Scoring against Cameroon and Denmark he helped Japan progress into the knockout stage in a tough group which also included the Netherlands. Football fans may have forgotten all about that spectacular freekick against Denmark but for Honda it was a pivotal moment in his career. A moment of personal triumph culminating from years of hard work grafting on those Dutch second division pitches.
Fast forward three years and after weathering three seasons playing in subzero Moscow temperatures, Honda arrived at the Confederation cup a tough and battle hardened warrior of a footballer.
His success thus doesn't come surprisingly, not to him at least. It comes instead as a direct result of some hard work both in footballing terms as well as a personal terms having to adapt to different cultures of West and Eastern Europe. Japan may have been knocked out of the Confederations Cup 2013 with two defeats against Brazil and Italy, but Honda's formidable performances have made him a household name overnight.
In a recent interview he even declared that Japan have the potential to win the 2014 World Cup. Whilst that may be a step too far, at 27 and as an established international who's out of contract soon, this particular Blue Samurai's tale is about to enter an exciting new chapter.
image: © lloydm