Strasbourg (France) (AFP) – Strasbourg coach Thierry Laurey is expected to stick with Eiji Kawashima between the posts for Saturday’s Ligue 1 visit of Nice, the 37-year-old Japan international emerging as an unlikely starter having entered the season as the club’s third-choice goalkeeper.
Kawashima, a veteran of three World Cups with Japan, made his first club appearance since May 2019 in last weekend’s 3-1 loss in the season opener at Lorient after a combination of injury and illness decimated Strasbourg’s goalkeeping ranks.
Matz Sels, a virtual ever-present since signing from Newcastle in 2018, ruptured his Achilles tendon in July.
Bingourou Kamara, who starred in Strasbourg’s 2019 League Cup title run, tested positive for Covid-19 at the start of August, propelling the well-travelled Kawashima into the lead role.
“It’s clear the players who are behind physically haven’t been able to recover. We’ll take stock after the first international break,” Laurey said in reference to the nine players at the club who have contracted Covid-19.
Kawashima, idolised in his home country on the back of appearing 91 times for Japan, described his return to Ligue 1 action a week ago as a “pleasure” despite finishing on the losing side.
He has now spent a decade in Europe, originally arriving in Belgium with Lierse in 2010 before moving on to Standard Liege two years later.
Kawashima joined Dundee United for the 2015-16 campaign, one that ended in relegation from Scotland’s top flight.
Following his release he signed for Metz, staying for two seasons, and then came to Strasbourg in the weeks following the 2018 World Cup, where Japan lost 3-2 to Belgium in the last 16 after surrendering a two-goal lead.
– ‘I wanted to stay in France’ –
“There were possibilities abroad, I could also have returned to Japan but that wasn’t my aim,” Kawashima told AFP.
“I wanted to stay in France where there are some good competitions.”
He has, however, largely watched on from the stands in Alsace, and occasionally from the substitutes’ bench.
But just like at Metz, Kawashima has suddenly gone from a back-up role to the starter in the blink of an eye.
“I put in the effort to play well, I work each day with the same mentality in training or in a match,” he said.
“If there’s a chance for me, I’m here to help the group. It’s then up to the coach to decide.”
Kawashima is the league’s second oldest keeper behind Marseille’s Yohann Pele but is still dreaming of playing at a fourth World Cup in Qatar in 2022, downplaying his advancing years by insisting “it’s all in the mind”.
For Kamara, 23, the Covid-19 infection was an unfortunate setback, forcing him into a two-week quarantine until August 18 and stifling his momentum.
It could also shake up the pecking order behind Sels, who will not return before 2021.
“It’s bound to be disappointing for him deep down but I’m trying to tell him it’s part of a career,” Strasbourg’s goalkeeping coach Stephane Cassard told AFP, advising Kamara to stay “patient and positive”.
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