Sleeping and coffee. Those are the simple, and some might say contradictory, pleasures that put a smile on Aya Miyama’s face. The talented Japanese midfielder confesses to being less enamoured of interviews, and smiles as she whispers that she would rather be sweating it out on the training ground with her team-mates than talking into a microphone.

After forgiving us for not bringing her a coffee, the Japan captain told FIFA.com that she felt extremely honoured at taking third place in voting for the FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year award for 2015. “What pleases me most of all, though, is that other countries see Japan as a global power. That’s much more important than any individual recognition,” said Miyama, who inherited the Nadeshiko armband from Homare Sawa in 2012. 

“The World Cup Final didn’t go our way at all, and what we’d like to do in the Olympic qualifying tournament is start playing like a solid unit again,” added the 31-year-old, looking ahead to the AFC qualifiers for Rio 2016, which will be held in Osaka on 29 February-9 March and where the hosts, Australia, Korea DPR, Korea Republic, China PR and Vietnam will fight it out for two berths in Brazil.

“We need to qualify for Rio and then do well there to ensure that women’s football maintains its popularity in Japan,” explained Miyama, well aware of how interest in the women’s game tends to fluctuate among Japanese fans and the media. Though the sport is well established in her homeland, it relies heavy on the achievements of the national team.

Those achievements have been numerous in the last few years. Crowned FIFA Women’s World Cup™ champions in 2011, the Nadeshiko finished runners-up at last year’s world finals, won Olympic silver at London 2012 and landed their first Asian title two years later.

Asia's Player of the Year three times in her career, Miyama is working hard to ensure Japan stay successful, while also striving to improve the overall prospects of the sport she loves, a task she intends to devote her life to when she retires: “I want to help broaden the appeal of the sport and convince girls and young women that football is fun to play.”

Long and winding road
The midfielder’s love for the game began when she started kicking a ball around at the club her father founded in her home city of Oamishirasato. The skills she developed later gave her the chance to play in the USA with Los Angeles Sol, Saint Louis Athletica and Atlanta Beat.

That two-year spell in the States had a major impact on her and allowed her to reach a whole new level. Reflecting on it, the smiling Miyama said: “I think the best thing about that time was the chance to experience a new culture first hand. And learn English, of course.”

She also made some very good friends there, among them Hope Solo, and gained valuable experience alongside some very talented players, not least Marta, her former team-mate at the now-defunct Los Angeles club. Now with Okayama Yunogo Belle, Miyama has no doubts about recommending the Brazilian star should her employers dip into the transfer market: “I’d love to play with her again.”

Football has given the Japan skipper much, though she has always reciprocated that generosity, not least when donating her $10,000 award for being named tournament MVP at the last AFC Women’s Asian Cup to charity.

“As a footballer, I always try to make a contribution to society,” explained the selfless Miyama. “I like helping children pursue their dreams and supporting them as best I can.”