By Alastair Himmer
TOKYO (Reuters) - Once a Dutch master, now a Russian tsar, midfielder Keisuke Honda could prove to be Japan's most potent weapon at the World Cup in South Africa.
Honda's directness and powerful running will be Japan's trump card as the Blue Samurai look to catch Cameroon cold in their opening Group E match.
The CSKA Moscow midfielder player has been a revelation for Takeshi Okada's Japan since cementing his place as a regular in the side last year.
The muscular midfielder will give Japan more physical presence at the World Cup while keeping opposition defenders on their toes with his pace and eye for goal.
Honda, who turns 24 the day before Japan face Cameroon on June 14 in Bloemfontein, also has a penchant for scoring spectacular long-range goals.
Honda's partnership alongside fellow European-based midfielder Makoto Hasebe adds an element of surprise to a Japan attack that had become predictable and plodding without it.
With playmaker Shunsuke Nakamura's ability to pick out a killer ball, Honda's runs will give the Japanese another outlet as they look to defy the odds in South Africa.
Honda's knowledge of Dutch football -- he played for Venlo in the Dutch championship for almost two years -- may give Japan valuable inside information for the clash with the Netherlands but garnering points from Cameroon and Denmark appears a more realistic proposition.
If Honda and the rest of Japan's midfielders are firing on all cylinders Japan could cause problems with their pace but the fear is they will be pressed into extended defensive duties.
Honda's versatility means Okada could also use him at full back although Japan's best option could be to give free rein to their best players.
Japan have blown hot and cold under Okada's second term in charge, the temperature only rising above freezing when Honda and Hasebe have been involved.
Four goals in 12 Japan games attest to the danger Honda presents and with his tail up after helping CSKA to reach the last eight of the Champions League, he could be the man to watch.
(Editing by Miles Evans)