Keisuke Honda set for A-League derby debut with Melbourne Victory
Superstar import Keisuke Honda is both supremely ready for Saturday's Melbourne derby and unprepared for the occasion. Honda's first taste of the A-League will come in one of the biggest dates in Melbourne Victory's calendar, a home clash against Melbourne City with a crowd of at least 40,000 expected at Marvel Stadium.
The seasoned international is delighted to be just days away from game time after the longest preseason of his career, confident a return to playing since his World Cup exertions will come naturally.
But there are unknowns for the 32-year-old, such as the make-up of Saturday's opponents.
"To be honest I don't follow a lot," he said, before mentioning departed ex-Socceroo Tim Cahill as the only City player he knew. "I know Tim used to play at Melbourne City, right?
"Tactically we're analysing and Kevin [Muscat] has told us a lot of things that they will do on Saturday. So I'm OK. I'm fine. I'm ready to play against them."
Honda has played in Japan, the Netherlands, Russia, Italy and Mexico prior to his arrival in Melbourne. But nowhere else has he endured the 12-week preseason unique to the A-League, where soccer waits for clear air from other domestic competitions to begin.
"Everyone is waiting for the start of the season. ... Australia has to finish the rugby season and now we start the soccer league. It's weird and it's unique," he said. "But I'm getting to know Australian culture. It's nice."
Victory will walk out on the field at the newly-rebadged Docklands stadium as A-League champions, but with indifferent preseason form behind them. They lost their last behind-closed-doors friendlies, to Adelaide United and Wellington Phoenix, and suffered an early exit from the FFA Cup at the hands of state league side APIA Leichhardt.
Honda didn't feature in two of those games but will start against City. And Muscat could also be without captain Carl Valeri, who missed the two friendlies, and has yet to prove his fitness.
Meantime, Honda suggested fellow import Ola Toivonen may take some time before reaching his best.
"He is obviously one of the best players in our team, [though] I'm worried about his condition," he said of the Swedish attacker. "I think he needs some time. I'm sure he is going to be OK. He will surprise you this season."
While expressing surprise that a derby would be scheduled in the first round of the season, another uniquely Australian fixture quirk, Honda said he'd slot right into the occasion.
"I also have a lot of experience, derby experience. I know how this game is important," he said. "I've been training for two or three months ... finally we can play against Melbourne City on Saturday. I'm so excited."