FIFA Women's World Cup
Why Hinata Miyazawa is such an unlikely Golden Boot contender
FIFA Women's World Cup

Why Hinata Miyazawa is such an unlikely Golden Boot contender

Updated Aug. 10, 2023 1:38 p.m. ET

What sort of mindset would you expect from the Women's World Cup's leading scorer?

Some swagger, perhaps? Walking tall with an air of confidence that indicates more goals are on the way? At the very least – of this we can be sure – an aura of belief, because great things are only achieved by those who thought they could, right? Now here's the thing …

"I didn't think I could score this much," Japan midfielder Hinata Miyazawa, owner of five precious strikes since the tournament began and possessor of outright first place in the race for the World Cup's Golden Boot, told reporters.

[2023 Women's World Cup Golden Boot odds, Hinata Miyazawa favorite]


No one else thought she could either, primarily because there was precisely no evidence to suggest that such goalscoring prowess was on the horizon. Miyazawa isn't a big scorer for her club in Japan's women's league, and had a strike rate of just four goals in 20 international games heading into the event.

Yet five goals in four appearances so far has helped the Nadeshiko turn rapidly from pre-tournament pretenders to the most devastating unit in the whole early part of the competition. A quarterfinal is next, against Sweden on Friday (3:30 a.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app). It has also morphed her into a star, one that a global audience is clamoring to find out about.

Fortunately, her tale is one that is distinctly worth telling.

Japan's Hinata Miyazawa goes SUPERSONIC and scores vs. Zambia | Every Angle

It is a story that has deep roots in disappointment, which is part of what makes her surge in Australia and New Zealand so satisfying. Four years ago, Miyazawa was the final player cut from the Japan roster that traveled to France for the World Cup, then got bounced out in the round of 16.

Her hopes of making amends at the home Olympics in Tokyo, near her home, were dashed initially by the COVID-enforced rescheduling, then by an injury suffered in the build up to the Games.

When head coach Futoshi Ikeda selected her for this year's World Cup roster, it was not a surprise but was still emotional.

"When my name was mentioned, I was relieved," she said. "Or rather, I got goosebumps. I called my mother and we both cried."

Family is a big part of her journey. Miyazawa grew up in a single-parent home, far less common in Japan than it is in the United States. She is tight with her mother and also her brother Keita, who taught her to play soccer at age 3 and is a semi-pro player in a Japanese regional league.

They analyze each other's games in intrinsic detail, a habit dating back years. During the Nadeshiko's campaign, the old routine has been retained, with video calls between the siblings to pore through the 90 minutes, pointing out the small and not-so-small stuff.

Miyazawa plies her club trade for Mynavi Sendai, a not especially trendy or high-profile team in Japan's WE League. Indeed, before the tournament it was seen as a weakness in the squad that so many of the attacking threats were Japan-based, rather than playing for leading European teams. Now, it seems to be going just fine.

The 23-year-old is part of a significant generation, in that she was in elementary school when Japan won the Women's World Cup in 2011, a tour de force that culminated with a penalty shootout victory over the United States in the final and lifted the spirits of a nation still reeling from the deadly Tohoku earthquake.

"When you think of women's football in Japan, you mostly think of 2011," she said. "I want to help change that."

Miyazawa's gameday headband – quickly becoming a fashion statement in Japan – is in honor of Nahomi Kawasumi, one of the stars of that 2011 squad.

Is it a lucky charm? Maybe, because something is going on with Japan and its seemingly unstoppable form, a buzzsaw that stunned Spain, 4-0, in the group stage and then easily dispatched Norway in a 3-1 win that was more one-sided than it sounds.

[Golden Boot race tracker: 2023 Women's World Cup top scorers]

Sweden, the USA's conquerors in that now-infamous penalty shootout, will be a stern challenge, not to be underestimated at No. 3 in the world rankings. If pure form is the most important barometer, however, Japan deserves to be considered a healthy favorite.

It is a brutal path, the top half of the bracket, and Miyazawa and her teammates will need to get by Sweden, then the winner of Spain v. the Netherlands, if they are to make it to the final.

If that is how it goes then this Japan team will truly have earned its place alongside the legends of 2011. And Miyazawa surely will have stopped being surprised by the goals she is scoring.

Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. Follow him on Twitter @MRogersFOX and subscribe to the daily newsletter.

FOLLOW Follow your favorites to personalize your FOX Sports experience
Hinata Miyazawa
FIFA Women's World Cup

Get more from FIFA Women's World Cup Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more