When Yuki Nagasato hoisted the championship plate skywards on 29 May, it signalled the end of another successful season with Turbine Potsdam in the Women’s Bundesliga for the Japanese international. The Berlin-based club were crowned German champions for the fourth consecutive year and Nagasato played no small part in their success. Only Genoveva Anonman scored more than the 13 Nagasato netted.
“I scored a few goals and am very happy with myself,” Nagasato told FIFA.com in an exclusive interview. “Over the course of the season the team changed and my role did too. It allowed me to broaden my game, so I’m pleased about that as well. Unfortunately we weren’t able to win the Champions League though.”
Before joining Turbine Potsdam at the beginning of 2010, Nagasato played in her homeland for NTV Beleza, with whom she also enjoyed great success. Moving to the Women’s Bundesliga was the next logical step in her development. “The German league is one of the best in the world, if not the best,” the 24-year-old said. “That’s why I wanted to play in Germany, to go up against the world’s top players.”
Culture of women’s football needs to grow
While Nagasato has certainly impressed in her club’s colours, she has also become an essential part of the Japanese national team. Her greatest achievement to date was becoming world champion after beating USA in the Final of the FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011™.
“Women’s football is one of the sports that is still not widely accepted,” Nagasato said of the public perception of the women’s game in Japan. “Until now football has not been ingrained into our culture. Obviously winning the World Cup raised its profile, but improvement still needs to be made in a lot of areas. I think that the culture of women’s football in Japan still needs to grow.”
Victory in the FIFA Women’s World Cup last year also served to raise level of expectation on the team. The Women’s Olympic Football Tournament in London offers the Nadeshiko the best chance to fulfil such high hopes. And Nagasato is looking forward to the competition with confidence. “The expectations for these Olympic Games are constantly growing. I believe we’ll get good results there and that we’ll continue to do so in the future.”
Heading to London with self-belief
The reigning world champions have hardly been handed an easy ride in London, with matches against Canada, South Africa and Sweden in the group stage. The latter have a score to settle after losing to Japan in the semi-finals of last year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup, while Canada will be determined to give a better account of themselves than they did in Germany.
“To me it doesn’t matter who our opponents are. At the Olympic Games you need to be wary of every team,” said Nagasato. “The South Africans are already looking forward to playing us. They’d never qualified for the Olympics before. It could be a lot of fun. When I compare Japanese football now to how it was during the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, it’s progressed so much. For instance there’s a growing number of players under contract at foreign clubs,” she added.
The Japanese will be able to put their development to the test in the coming days (16-20 June) at the Volvo Winners Cup in Halmstad and Goteborg in Sweden. There the top three teams at last year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup (runners-up USA and third-placed Sweden) will go head-to-head as a warm-up for the Olympic tournament.
Japan’s opponents will need to pay special attention to Nagasato, who will be doing her utmost to lead her country to victory again. For her, every tournament is a chance to win.