Messi-inspired Hamano aims high with Japan

  • Maika Hamano finished as tournament top-scorer in Asian qualifiers

  • Cerezo Osaka forward lists Lionel Messi as her idol

  • Has her sights on triumphant U-17 Women’s World Cup

While many of football's youth aspirants across the globe agree that Lionel Messi has provided them with a lasting inspiration, his myriad talents mean the Argentina and Barcelona star likely influences them in different ways.

For Maika Hamano, Japan U-17 women team's top striker, it is Messi's often unfathomable art of scoring that opened the footballing gates for her.

"What is the most striking for me is the way he [Messi] plays and scores," the 15-year-old told "He often catches his opponents off guard and leaves them surprised. And he defies both the quality of his opponents and pressure to achieve this during a high-tempo game. He is my idol and I want to play like him."

Maika Hamano’s goals at the 2019 AFC U-16 Women's Championship

Two9-0Bangladesh (Group)
Two8-0Thailand (Group)
One2-0China PR (Semi-final)

It remains to be seen as to for whether Hamano will become a goal-scoring phenomenon like Messi. However, she did show what she is capable in last September's 2019 AFC U-16 Women's Championship, finishing top scorer as Japan won a record fourth title.

The Cerezo Osaka Sakai Girls forward was on target five times, including scoring the second in the all-important last-four clash against China PR, helping seal their passage to the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup India 2021™.

While she didn’t produce a Messi-esque mesmerising run or intricate piece of wizardry when getting on the scoresheet in Thailand, she proved that she could always be relied on to provide the clinical touch.

"As an attacker, there is nothing that makes you happier than scoring loads of goals. Particularly, when you achieve this in a major competition like the Asian qualifying campaign. Scoring the second goal in the decisive game against China was a special experience for me."

Japan U-17 women's team forward Maika Hamano (Second left) is controlling the ball.

All these aside, it was her smart pass for Hanon Nishio during a group game against Thailand that raised the most eyebrows. Japan were 2-0 up against the host team and, having scored the match-opener, Hamano, with her back to goal, flicked a low pass to her team-mate with sensational awareness to tee up the third goal.

"Technically, it is easy to score a goal," she continued. "But you have to think a lot about how to build up to it. Tactics are one of the most amazing things about football. I like to think about the tactics in a game and I enjoy implementing them."

Squad goals

Having set the Asian stage alight with her goals and assists, Hamano has switched her sights on India 2021. While hoping to translate her continental form on to the global stage, she has set herself the ultimate goal – to win the World Cup.

“We went through a series of tough games to win the Asian title and now we hope to achieve the same result at the World Cup. We want to win every tournament we play, and we will unite to reach those goals. As a team, we will work hard and maintain smooth communication between us.

“For me, I must firstly work hard to keep my place in the team. Then I can think about working hard and scoring goals. Should I make it to the World Cup squad, I will try to offer my contribution to the team through my work.”

Japan’s record at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup

2008Quarter-finalsNew Zealand
2010Runners-upTrinidad & Tobago
2014ChampionsCosta Rica