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2014 FIFA World Cup Soccer Fitness Preview: Japan – Keisuke Honda and the “Knuckle Shot”

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Because this is a World Cup year, I have decided to countdown to the tournament by providing a short soccer/fitness related preview of each of the 32 participating nations. In this installment, I will look at Japan, perennial Asian contenders, who have drawn a group that includes Cote D’Ivoire, Colombia, and Greece. Japan play their first match against Cote D’Ivoire on June 14th.

Keisuke Honda, generally regarded as Japan’s best player, has several unique talents.  Among them is the ability to strike a ball that travels at high speeds, but does not spin or rotate at all while traveling through the air.  Termed the “knuckle shot”, this type of strike is very deceptive to goalkeepers, because the lack of spin prevents them from making a decision about where to move to save the ball until it is “too late”.  Honda has proven himself to be very effective with the knuckle shot during set pieces for the Japanese National team.  But don’t just take it from me – watch this video to see Honda’s knuckle shot in action: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VlQEjpU6EIE.

At the 7th World Congress on Science and Football, held in Nagoya, Japan in May, 2011, the knuckle shot was a very popular topic of discussion, both among the Japanese and other researchers from around the world.  One oral presentation at the Congress, done by Hong et.al. through the Department of Comprehensive Human Sciences and the University of Tsukuba, Ibaraki in Japan, was titled “Impact Phase Kinematics of Knuckling Shot in Football”.  This study examined the knuckle shot in detail, with particular emphasis placed on the position of the foot/leg, and the impact forces on the ball when it is being struck.  Without getting into all the details, the study concluded that an effective knuckle shot has both a reduced “angle of attack” – that is, the foot should strike directly through the ball in a straight motion as opposed to the slightly upwards motion of more “traditional” instep ball striking – and a “translational” ankle movement at impact – that is, the heel is pushed out towards the inside of the foot when the ball is hit. 

Keisuke Honda has clearly become an expert in the technical application of the above-mentioned impact phase kinematics of the knuckle shot, and the results have been very impressive.  He will present a danger to any opponent who gives up a set piece 40-yards or less from goal.  Can his knuckle shot be the difference that sees Japan through Group C and into the knockout stage?  We will have to wait and see what happens in 2 months’ time.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this topic.  Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.

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