By TOMOHIRO OSAKI
Hinata Miyazawa had never been prolific for club or country before this year’s Women’s World Cup — now she is the tournament’s leading scorer and spearheading Japan’s surprising title charge.
The 23-year-old already has five goals in four matches and has Sweden in her sights in Friday’s quarterfinal 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.
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 that Japan could repeat its World Cup title success of 2011 were low, even at home, ahead of the tournament.
Miyazawa had only scored four times in more than 20 appearances for her country.
But Japan is playing some of the best soccer at the World Cup, and Miyazawa’s five goals equal the number Homare Sawa achieved in 2011.
Miyazawa’s haul is even more surprising as she has scored only four times in 39 appearances at the club level for MyNavi Sendai over the past two seasons.
She 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 organized at the back that they are able to set her up,” Orlowitz said.
“It’s a system that suits her abilities, and her abilities suit the system.”
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 counterattacking,” Japanese soccer commentator Sergio Echigo said.
“She is also very calm and doesn’t panic right before she is about to score a goal,” he added.
Born outside Yokohama, Miyazawa fell in love with soccer while at kindergarten and was inspired by Japan’s 2011 World Cup win.
The triumph by the team, nicknamed “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. She helped Japan win the Under-20 World Cup the same year 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 said.
“I hope we’ll see a hero emerge from the World Cup this time,” said Echigo.