Monday 06 May 2019, 07:46

Sawa-inspired Hasegawa keen to repay faith on global stage

  • Yui Hasegawa is one of the bright young talents of Japanese football

  • She counts Nadeshiko legend Homare Sawa as an inspiration

  • Midfielder talks with about the prospect of playing for gold on home soil

The 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup™ triumph by Japan changed women's football in the island nation forever. Case in point: Yui Hasegawa.

The box-to-box midfielder and FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup Costa Rica 2014 champion watched as Homare Sawa and Co lifted the coveted trophy into the Frankfurt night, an image permanently fixed in her mind whenever she dreamed of her future as a footballer.

Now that future includes the possibility of playing for an Olympic gold medal on home soil at Tokyo 2020, where she and the Nadeshiko are guaranteed participation in the Women's Football Tournament as hosts. caught up with Hasegawa during her preparations for the FIFA Women's World Cup France 2019™ to get a sense of what the anticipation is like for her and the team ahead of Tokyo 2020. What does it mean to you to have a global event like the Olympic Games in essentially your hometown? Yui Hasegawa: It will be precious timing for me if I am there and play in front of my family, friends and those who took me to this place, like my coaches. I want to find something I can give them back.

Japan winning the Women's World Cup in 2011 had a major impact on the growth of women's football in the country, but what kind of impact did it have on you personally? It was tremendous. It was something that had an unbelievably huge impact on Japan after the disaster [Great East Japan Earthquake]. However, to me it was not just a surprising thing that happened; it made me more determined to do the same thing one day.

Japan have established themselves as one of the best national teams and are a consistent contender at major international tournaments. What's the secret behind that success? Well, to be honest it is hard for me to analyse what’s good about Japan's women's football. What I can tell you is that Nippon TV Beleza, the family team of Tokyo Verdy, has had a huge impact on my career. They both (Japan and NTV Beleza) have established a successful way of bringing up young players, and especially in women’s football history, NTV Beleza have had a huge impact with their success through the years.

Yui Hasegawa playing for NTV Beleza

Would it be a perfect culmination of all the hard work you have put in to win a gold medal on home soil? Is that something you visualise often? Well, to me, I try not to think about it (winning a gold medal) too much. I’m always giving 100 per cent no matter where and when I play football. Whether it's a training match for my club or the final of the Olympics, it's all the same to me.

What are your memories of watching the Olympic Games growing up? I remember a lot about Eri Tosaka, a female wrestler who competed at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. She put in a great performance. As she followed legendary wrestler Saori Yoshida for a long time, Saori’s defeat in Rio was really shocking to her and Eri didn’t enjoy her victory at all. I like her personality.

Yui Hasegawa #14 of Japan celebrates a teammate's goal

Knowing that you have a real chance to represent Japan at the Games on home soil, can you describe the motivation to realise that dream? It represents a chance for me to create an opportunity to show my gratitude to those who brought me up to where I am now, and that is my motivation when it comes to the Tokyo Olympic Games. To play right in front of them at the stadium, I have a chance to do that. That's not something you can easily re-create if the Games were held elsewhere, so it will be special.

Who were your idols growing up? As you're a midfielder, no doubt Homare Sawa would be high on the list. Yes, Sawa is the one. I think she is the ideal role model, both as a person and as a football player. We play in different style, but still I learned a lot of things from Sawa.