Hina Sugita is a bona fide rising star of world football. Winning the adidas Golden Ball at U-17 level, as she did two years ago at Costa Rica 2014 is one thing. Repeating the feat at U-20 level is quite simply remarkable. But that is exactly what Sugita achieved on Saturday when she was crowned the best player at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Papua New Guinea 2016.
The only missing part of the equation was a gold medal to match the one secured in Costa Rica two years ago. Japan were, somewhat unluckily, eliminated with an extra-time defeat against France in the semi-final in a match they dominated. It seemed likely that could be repeated only for Mami Ueno to finally make the breakthrough three minutes from time to defeat USA and allow the Young Nadeshiko to pick up third.
Sugita was a pivotal figure providing endless ammunition for the team’s attacking duo of Yui Hasegawa and Yuka Momiki. She scored one goal and made one direct assist, but it was her influence in the heart of the team’s midfield that was crucial in keeping the well-oiled Japan machine at optimum output.
Sugita, however, was demure and humble post-match in accepting her award. “It is such a great prize and I’m very proud,” Sugita told FIFA.com. “I’m very glad to earn such a big prize because I worked very hard for this tournament. I exist to play football and so I’m very glad to earn such a prize.
“The quality of passing and skill is more developed than at the U-17 age level. So I’m happy that I have developed at the same level (over the past two years).”
The 19-year-old Sugita already plies her trade for top Nadeshiko League outfit INAC Kobe Leonessa, but the next goal is senior national team honours. Few would bet against that happening. “My aim is to now be selected for the national team so with that in mind I will work even harder to further develop my football.”