Tokyo: Kumi Yokoyama was a mere 16 years old when she dribbled past six Korea DPR players in the semi-finals of the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Trinidad and Tobago 2010 to score one of the greatest goals in the history of women’s football.
Her stunning solo effort earned her the FIFA Puskás Award that same year and marked the emergence of a player whose talent has continued to blossom ever since.
“It was a miracle goal and I wouldn’t have got where I am today without it,” the Japanese forward told FIFA.com. “It generated a lot of expectation and put a lot of pressure on my shoulders, but I learned a lot from it. The experience I’ve gained has helped me overcome the obstacles I’ve faced.”
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Ten years have passed since that goal, in which time the Nadeshiko player has truly come of age, scoring 17 goals in 43 appearances for her country and running out at the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019, a record that shows how far she has come.
“If you ask me, I haven’t achieved anything yet,” Yokoyama said modestly. “I’ve only been as far as the last 16 of the World Cup, so there’s still something missing on both a team and an individual level with Japan. We’ve got a lot of work to do, and that goes for me too, of course. Our predecessors laid the foundations and it’s up to us to start building on them.”
Since losing in the final at Canada 2015, the Japanese have struggled to recapture the form that made them such a force in the game up to that point and have even dropped out of the top 10 of the FIFA Women’s World Ranking.
The days when the Nadeshiko matched USA blow for blow seem to be a distant memory, with the Americans getting the better of them once again in their most recent meeting: a 3-1 win in this year’s SheBelieves Cup.
“The generation that went before us raised the bar high. They made history,” explained Yokoyama. “And it’s thanks to them that Japanese women’s football has the reputation it enjoys today. That’s something we need to keep in mind. It’s up to us to live up to that reputation."
Yokoyama is well placed to make that judgement. After starring in the J-League and spending some time in the German league, she joined NWSL side Washington Spirit at the start of the year.
“It’s a dream come true for me,” said Yokoyama, who has not yet been able to play for her new club because of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Not everyone gets the chance to play in the country of the world champions. I’m very grateful to the club for giving this opportunity to a player who’s a long way from being able to speak English properly.”
The current layoff has not dampened her desire to do well: “I want to reach even higher. My aim is to develop as a person, to discover new things and to pick up experience as a player in the US league, the Japan team and elsewhere.”
Expressing her lofty ambitions for the future, a smiling Yokoyama added: “My ultimate dream would be to play for a men’s team in a foreign league, though I’d settle for the Japanese league too.”
It is a goal that is every bit as remarkable as the one she scored to launch her career all those years ago.
Sources: FIFA.com, FIFA via Getty Images, AFP
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