They say patience is a virtue, but Shuichi Gonda must have the patience of a saint to wait as long as he has for a chance to shine.
The goalkeeper’s wait has been nearly a decade, but he has finally ascended to the Japan number one jersey, and now he’ll play a pivotal role as Hajime Moriyasu’s side go in search of a record-extending fifth Asian Cup title against Qatar in the final on Friday.
The Sagan Tosu stopper made his international debut as long ago as 2010 but has had to bide his time to fully establish himself, which he has done at this tournament and under Moriyasu, who has ushered in a new era of youth for the Samurai Blue.
Gonda gained only his 10th cap in the 3-0 semi-final triumph over Iran – aged 29. After his maiden cap against Yemen nine years ago, his second came three years later, with his third only in 2015, as he had to play understudy to the likes of national team icons Seigo Narazaki, Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi and Eiji Kawashima.
But now Gonda is the main man, and it is an opportunity he has taken with both hands. He had just five caps to his name coming into the tournament, where he has doubled his tally, recording four successive clean sheets in the process.
“When it comes to protecting the goal, that’s my job,” the shotstopper told the-AFC.com ahead of the final in Abu Dhabi.
“I feel a sense of responsibility to do that and think I am doing okay in that regard. The most important thing is that everybody is putting their bodies on the line.”
He was part of the Asian Cup-winning squad of 2011, and earned a call up to the World Cup squad in Brazil three years later, but didn’t appear in either tournament as Kawashima kept guard.
Almost eight years to the day that he watched on from the bench as Tadanari Lee scored in extra time to give Japan their fourth continental title with a 1-0 win over Australia, Gonda is now in a position to help guide them to their fifth.
But for a crucial save from Iran’s lethal striker Sardar Azmoun when Monday’s semi-final was poised at 0-0, it might have been a different story.
Juggernauts Japan may have history on their side, but Gonda is taking nothing for granted.
“All we have done is progressed to the final,” he added.
“We won’t know anything until we take on our opponent. Football starts at 0-0 so we just have to make sure we prepare ourselves properly.”
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