Golden girl Nagano eyes ultimate prize

  • ​Fuka Nagano is Japan’s playmaker

  • Won the adidas Golden Ball at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Jordan 2016

  • She is gunning for World Cup glory at France 2018

After turning in a superb performance to help Japan beat England 2-0 on Monday, Fuka Nagano added yet another accolade to her growing collection, as the FIFA Technical Study Group named her its “Dare to Shine” Player of the Match. It was the second such award of her career; the Japanese midfielder having also collected one during the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Jordan 2016, when it was known by a different name.

In a team noted for its collective abilities, Nagano stands out for her playmaking abilities, which is no mean achievement given the Young Nadeshiko’s strength as a unit. So consistently impressive has she been in recent seasons that she has picked up one individual distinction after another, including the adidas Golden Ball at Jordan 2016 and the Asian Youth Player of the Year award shortly afterwards.

Did you know?

  • Nagano took up football at the age of five, “just so I could do what my big brother was doing”

  • She plays in Korea Republic for Incheon Hyundai Steel Red Angels

  • Called up to Japan’s full national team on several occasions, she has yet to make her senior debut

“It’s always nice to get recognition like that because it gives you confidence,” Nagano told “Against England I just tried to set the pace of our attacking play, which is maybe what people liked about my performance. It wasn’t my perfect game, though. I could have done even better and I hope I can prove that in the final.”

Needless to say, Friday’s showpiece is a big occasion for Nagano, who will not be lacking in motivation. The No10 and several of her team-mates were on the losing side in the final at Jordan 2016, while their opponents on this occasion will be Spain, the only side to have beaten them at France 2018.

The Golden Ball or a winner’s medal? “They’re no ordinary opponents for us,” said Nagano. “I played Spain twice at the U-17 World Cup in 2014, and one of those games was the final. Things worked out for us on that occasion. And we’ve played them here in the group phase and will do so again in the final. I hope the outcome will be the same as last time.”

With Japan losing 1-0 to the Spanish in the group phase, Nagano, who is a big admirer of Xavi and Andres Iniesta, is hoping Japan can turn the tables on Friday: “It’s a chance for us to get our revenge. I have a lot of respect for the Spanish. It’s going to be a great match and we both play very similar types of football. Like Japan, Spain rely an awful lot on their passing game. It’s a style of play that I get a lot of pleasure out of and which allows me to express myself fully.”

Nagano also gives a lot of pleasure to watching fans, though the time has come for her to convert individual recognition into a major team trophy. “My Golden Ball in 2016 gave me some consolation, but we failed to achieve my ultimate goal,” she added. “I hope I don’t pass up this latest opportunity.”