When Manchester United signed Shinji Kagawa from Borussia Dortmund last summer, great things were expected of the Japanese star.
The 24-year-old had won the Bundesliga Player of the Year for the 2011/12 season, and he was arguably the star player in a Dortmund side that is showing everyone how good it is in the Champions League this year.
Although his first season in English soccer has not been a particularly impressive one, he is just beginning to show signs that next season he will have adjusted to the Premier League, and will be a far more influential player at Old Trafford.
United’s 2-2 draw with West Ham on Wednesday was a tight game, but Kagawa had a big say in the result. He assisted both goals, for Antonio Valencia and Robin Van Persie, the first after a classy piece of skill and the second after his shot rebounded off both posts. It wasn’t an awesome performance from him by any means, but it was another sign that he is steadily improving.
Part of his lack of effectiveness this season must be put down to the fact that he hasn’t always played in his best position, which is in a central role behind the striker. That position has invariably been occupied by Wayne Rooney, which means Kagawa has been pushed out to the left, where his lack of pace has made him ineffective. Dropping Rooney deeper into midfield, with Kagawa behind Van Persie is certainly an option for Sir Alex Ferguson next season.
Many top foreign players often struggle in their first season in the Premier League. Just look at the likes of Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry and Robert Pires, a trio who ended up becoming legends at Arsenal are disappointing debut campaigns.
The signs are that the Japanese international has struggled in a similar way, but his current form makes you believe you will see a very different Shinji Kagawa next season.
The group stage of qualification is complete, as 20 teams have clinched a berth at EURO 2016, which kicks off next summer in France.
The top-two finishers in each group automatically qualified, as did the best third-place side out of all the groups (Turkey). France qualified automatically as the host nation.
[ MORE: EURO 2016 roundup ]
That leaves eight third-place teams to battle for the final four spots through a play-off. The draw for the matchups will take place on October 18, and those matches will be held from November 12-17 as a home-and-home play-off.
- Czech Republic
- Turkey (automatically qualified as best third-place side)
- Bosnia and Herzegovina (qualified for play-off)
- Ukraine (qualified for play-off)
- Republic of Ireland (qualified for play-off)
- Slovenia (qualified for play-off)
- Northern Ireland
- Hungary (qualified for play-off)
- Sweden (qualified for play-off)
- Norway (qualified for play-off)
- Denmark (qualified for play-off)
The group stage of qualifying for the 2016 European Championship has come to a close, and one of the top teams in the world will not be playing in France next summer.
Netherlands 2-3 Czech Republic
The Netherlands finished second at the 2010 World Cup and third at the 2014 World Cup, but have failed to qualify for EURO 2016. Playing in front of a home crowd in a must-win match against the Czech Republic, the Dutch got off to a dreadful start, falling behind 2-0 as manager Danny Blind was forced to make a substitution within the opening 40 minutes. The Czech Republic was sent to ten men before the break, but an own-goal from Robin Van Persie made it 3-0 as the Dutch couldn’t recover. A disastrous result for the Netherlands, as big changes will surely come from the top down.
[ RELATED: David de Gea fighting for starting goalkeeper position with Spain ]
Italy 2-1 Norway
Italy finishes atop Group H without a loss after defeating Norway 2-1 today. Norway took the lead through Norwich City’s Alexander Tettey, but late goals from Alessandro Florenzi and Southampton’s Graziano Pelle gave the Italians all three points.
Malta 0-1 Croatia
With Norway’s loss, Croatia jumped into second place in Group H and secured qualification to EURO 2016 with a 1-0 win away at Malta. Inter Milan’s Ivan Perisic scored the game’s only goal, as Croatia advances despite having one point deducted due to inappropriate actions from their fans.
Elsewhere in EURO qualifying
Turkey 1-0 Iceland
Latvia 0-1 Kazakhstan
Belgium 3-1 Israel
Wales 2-0 Andorra
Cyprus 2-3 Bosnia and Herzegovina
Bulgaria 2-0 Azerbaijan