Tokyo: Hinata Miyazawa had never been prolific for club or country before the Women’s World Cup — now she is the tournament’s leading scorer and spearheading Japan’s surprise title charge.
The 23-year-old already has five goals in four matches and has Sweden in her sights in Friday’s quarter-final in Auckland.
“I honestly didn’t think I could score this much,” Miyazawa told reporters after her ice-cold finish in the 81st minute polished off Norway in the last 16.
It was typical of how Miyazawa, who plays in Japan’s domestic women’s league, has been at the World Cup: cool, calculating and deadly.
Precision and placement
It is also noticeable that she has scored with both feet and rather than trying to smack the ball into the net, it is all about precision and placement.
Expectations were low at home ahead of the tournament that Japan could repeat their World Cup title success of 2011.
Miyazawa had only scored four times in more than 20 appearances for her country.
But Japan are playing some of the best football at the World Cup and Miyazawa’s five goals equal the number that Homare Sawa achieved in the 2011 title success.
Miyazawa’s goal haul is all the more surprising because she has scored only four times in 39 appearances for her club MyNavi Sendai over the past two seasons.
Miyazawa is often described as a midfielder but Dan Orlowitz, a sports writer for The Japan Times, said Japan coach Futoshi Ikeda has found a way to get goals out of her thanks to a 3-4-3 system that allows his team to be deadly on the break.
Miyazawa’s goals have mainly come from her running at speed from deep.
“It’s because of how Japan is so well organised at the back that they are able to set her up,” Orlowitz told AFP.
“It’s a system that suits her abilities, and her abilities suit the system,” he said.
It was Japan’s 4-0 thumping of Spain in the group phase that really made the rest of the World Cup sit up and take notice.
Miyazawa scored twice, once with each foot.
“She has speed and is also a good finisher and adept at counter-attacking,” Japanese football commentator Sergio Echigo told AFP.
“She is also very calm and doesn’t panic right before she is about to score a goal,” he added.
Born in Kanagawa prefecture outside Yokohama, Miyazawa fell in love with football while at kindergarten and in school was inspired by Japan’s 2011 World Cup win.
The triumph by the team, nicknamed the “Nadeshiko” after a pink flower, helped lift Japan following the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster earlier that year.
Miyazawa joined Tokyo Verdy Beleza in 2018. The same year she helped Japan win the Under-20 World Cup and was selected for the senior team.
Echigo said that the Japan team doesn’t really have a standout star, but in Miyazawa, with her trademark hairband, he sees a possible contender.
The hairband is in homage to Nahomi Kawasumi, another hero of the 2011 World Cup-winning squad, the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper said.
“I hope we’ll see a hero emerge from the World Cup this time,” said Echigo.