Hinata Miyazawa’s 5 goals in Women’s World Cup lead Japan into quarterfinals against Sweden

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (AP) — Led by a surprising new star, Japan has emerged as a Women’s World Cup favorite,

Hinata Miyazawa has scored fives times in four games and leads the Golden Boot race headed into Japan’s quarterfinal game against Sweden in Eden Park on Friday. The 23-year-old has already matched the team’s World Cup record set by Japanese legend Homare Sawa, who had five goals when Japan won the event in 2011.

Japan has steamrolled its way into the quarterfinals with a perfect 4-0 record and a team-record 14 total goals in the tournament. Japan has conceded only one goal this tournament, in a 3-1 victory over Norway in the knockout stage.

Miyazawa, a 5-foot-2 midfielder, plays professionally in Japan for Mynavi Sendai in the WE League. Last season she had just one goal in 20 appearances, so her prolific scoring is a marked improvement at the World Cup.

Miyazawa’s previous experience on the world stage came at the 2016 under-17 and 2018 under-20 World Cups. Japan won the latter event, with Miyazawa scoring in the 3-1 final over Spain.

Sweden is trying not to focus on Miyazawa, and be cognizant of all of the Japanese scoring threats.

“I think that the whole team is the threat,” Swedish defender Magdalena Eriksson said. “You have to be ready that runs can come from anywhere and they will never stop. They’re really good at combining together and moving off each other.

“So I think instead of focusing on one single player on this Japanese team, I think its important to look at their whole team and be prepared that threats can come from anywhere.”

Japan was not among the teams expected to win the World Cup. Since its 2011 World Cup campaign, the team tumbled in the FIFA rankings from fourth in the world rankings to 13th in 2021. Japan was ranked 11th at the start of this World Cup.

But big-named teams have been upset and sent home during the World Cup, including past winner Germany, two-time defending champion the United States, Olympic champion Canada and even perennial favorite Brazil.

Japan’s success so far at the World Cup is part of a resurgence for the Nadeshiko.

Japan’s title in 2011 capped an emotional penalty shootout against the United States. Japan had been devastated by the major earthquake and tsunami earlier that year, and the players dedicated the victory to victims of the disaster.

In 2015, Japan was the runner-up after a 5-2 loss to the United States. The team fell behind early after Carli Lloyd’s three goals in the first 16 minutes.

But Japan got knocked out of the 2019 Women’s World Cup in the Round of 16, falling to eventual runner-up the Netherlands 2-1.

“In 2011, Nadeshiko won the World Cup. We want to show the strong Japan again at another venue. We all believe that we can do it and I think that’s bringing us to where we are now,” midfielder Fuka Nagano said.

Sweden defeated Japan 3-1 in the quarterfinals of the Olympics in 2021, knocking the hosts out of the tournament.

Sweden coach Peter Gerhardsson said every player on the Japanese team is “very skillful.”

“I think our defending have been very good during this tournament, including our goalkeeper. We only lost one goal against South Africa (in the group stage) and I think that’s self confidence. But tomorrow is another challenge,” he said.

Sweden has come close but has never won a World Cup. They were the runners-up in 2003, and have finished third three times.

Japan’s coach hopes his team’s surprising run helps the players win new fans back home. Certainly Miyazawa has already captured attention with her play at the tournament.

“We still have to do much more, and we need more attention paid to us. But so many different types of people are helping us. Players are becoming more ambitious and all of those things and accumulation brings us to today,” the coach said through a translator. “This championship, this World Cup, and how we play here is going to help us grow even more. So we are getting together as a unit to do our best at the match tomorrow.”


AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/fifa-womens-world-cup