USA sharpshooter Hayes shines brightly
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At the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Japan 2012, Maya Hayes has been USA’s insurance policy, netting four times in the group stage alone. Putting an own goal from Ghana’s Linda Addai in the opening match aside, the striker has been responsible for all the goals scored by the two-time winners of this competition.

“I’m delighted that I’ve scored so often and have been able to help the team, even if we didn’t get the results we wanted,” Hayes said in an interview with FIFA.com. “The most important thing is that we’re still in the tournament.”

Indeed, the Stars and Stripes were always likely to experience a rough ride at the group stage after receiving a tough draw. A 4-0 win over Ghana was followed by a 1-1 draw with China PR and a disappointing 3-0 defeat to defending champions Germany. “That was hard, but we learnt something from every game and will now try to do better in the quarter-finals,” Hayes said.

Experienced and dangerous
There they will face Korea DPR in a repeat of the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup 2008 final, which USA won 2-1. The North Koreans topped Group C here without dropping a point, scoring 15 and conceding just three along the way. Steve Swanson’s side are full of respect for their Asian counterparts, but are determined to focus on their own strengths.

Hayes and her keen eye for goal will be key to United States' plans of progressing, while in Kim Un Hwa, who has already found the net seven times in here in Japan, Korea DPR likewise have a forward in a rich vein of form. The match on Friday in Saitama could come down to duel between the top scorers.

With 16 goals in 40 appearances for her country, Hayzee is both USA’s sharpest shooter and most experienced player. “I didn’t actually know that myself until recently,” the attacker said. “One of our staff told me and I think it’s great, I was very happy. But I’m still a team player and don’t just concentrate on myself.”

Hayes grew up in the New Jersey town of West Orange and first made a name for herself in High School, albeit as a basketball player. She later switched to football and began dreaming of becoming a professional: “Lots of people want to make it, myself included. I could imagine playing in Europe one day. I’m open for everything, but first I want to finish my studies.”

Motivated by memories
The 20-year-old has another two years left on her course at Pennsylvania State University before she can throw herself wholeheartedly into playing football. The reason she wears the No5 on her shirt here in Japan, an unusual choice for a forward, is simple: she uses the same number back in college.

At the 2010 edition of the tournament in Germany, Hayes played in every match for USA despite being one of the youngest members of the squad. Nonetheless, even she was unable to prevent a penalty shoot-out loss to Nigeria in the quarter-finals. It was the first time USA had ever been eliminated so early at a FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup.

Hayes is convinced history will not repeat itself in Japan. It is a different side this time around, one with extraordinary team spirit and brimming with individual quality. The striker is determined to get past Korea DPR, move into the last four and eventually celebrate victory in the final on 8 September in Tokyo: “That’s why we’re here. That’s what we want.”