Physicality has never been associated with Japanese forwards, who are renowned for their technique and pace. In Yuika Sugasawa, however, the Nadeshiko have an aerial specialist who is willing to mix it with opposition centre-backs.
At 5’6 (1.68m), the 28-year-old is among the tallest members of Asako Takakura’s FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019™ squad. The Urawa Reds player also boasts speed and times her shots to perfection.
These qualities were on show in the final of the Asian Games 2018’s Women’s Football Tournament. Japan had struggled to break down a full-strength China PR, but following a last-gasp counter-attack, Sugasawa’s diving header from an Emi Nakajima cross grabbed them the trophy.
“That was one of the most memorable international goals I have scored,” Sugasawa told FIFA.com. “It shows what bracket of strikers I belong to. I pounce on chances when they come.
“In this team I have good physical strength and I make the most of it, particularly when it comes to headers.
“To be honest, I don’t spend extra time improving my headers. But during training I concentrate on heading opportunities. For me, the key to heading is first prediction of my opponents’ action, and then the timing of shot.”
Japan open their France 2019 campaign against Argentina on 10 June, before taking on Scotland and England in Group D. For Sugasawa, the key to competing against the physically stronger South American and European players is preparation.
“It is self-destruction going into battle with them without ideas,” she said. “They are taller and stronger than us.
“As a forward, I need to think a lot about attacking. For instance, I must leap before they do and time my shot more precisely if I am to score against them. You can’t afford to allow them to play the way they want.”
Sugasawa announced her emergence on the domestic front in 2014, when she finished as that season’s J.League’s top scorer. She retained the individual accolade the next year, performances which saw her make it into Japan’s Canada 2015 squad.
Sugasawa made four appearances in her first Women’s World Cup, scoring the winner against Cameroon with a header.
“It was my first Women’s World Cup,” she recalled. “I didn’t play well.
“I just couldn’t find my feet in such a big event due to a lack of experience. I was not on the top of my game and my form and fitness were not at the best.”
Now, with France 2019 kicking off in just a few days, Sugasawa has another opportunity to prove herself on the biggest stage.
“As a forward, my duty is to score goals, while I must also help out my team-mates,” she said. “I will do whatever I can to contribute for the team.
“As a team, winning the Women’s World Cup is the ultimate goal. The challenges we face in France will be tough.
“All that we need to do is focus on one game at a time. If we work hard and play well as a team, the results will come. I’d love to make it to the Final and win it.”