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Japan-bound Ashleigh Sykes rules out Matildas return

Japan-bound Ashleigh Sykes' first love was the Olympic Games, but the Canberra United striker will remain unavailable for the Matildas in the lead-up to Rio in August.

Sykes has signed with Japanese club AS Harima Albion, who play in the second division of the Nadeshiko League, and will leave in the next few days.

The 24-year-old had a brilliant W-League campaign and her seven goals were a large reason they finished the home-and-away season in second.

But she made herself unavailable for national duties last year and she doesn't see that changing any time soon - although she didn't rule out a return to the Matildas in the future. She said it was a tough decision, especially having grown up with the Olympic dream.

The Matildas begin their quest to qualify for Rio against Japan in Osaka on February 29.

"Since I was a kid the Olympics was what you first fall in love with and watching Cathy Freeman at the 2000 Olympics that was all I wanted to do," Sykes said.


But she'd lost the enjoyment of playing at the highest level and - since she played soccer for fun - opted to step away.

She didn't want to talk about her reasons during the W-League season because she didn't want it to be a distraction for her Canberra teammates, simply citing personal reasons.

"At this point in time I'm not really looking at being involved in the national team scene," she said.

"It's obviously not an easy decision because it's the pinnacle for almost everyone in the game, playing for your country, but it does bring along with it a lot of pressures and a lot of time.

"I found that personally I wasn't enjoying it and I think it's something I need to work on in myself that I need to improve some things to be able to enjoy myself in that high-pressure environment.

"And I play soccer for fun so I figured if I'm not enjoying it then I'm not giving my best to the team, which is not fair on them."

Instead she's getting ready for the next chapter of her soccer career, where she has some high school Japanese to help her get by.

Sykes will spend the winter in Japan, where she sees the benefits as twofold - it'll make her a better player and it will also be a great life experience.

"I'm ready for something a bit different and it's also lucky my partner gets to come with me and experience it too," she said.

"I'm also really looking forward to working hard for [Harima Albion] and experiencing everything that comes along with that football challenge.

"Obviously Japan's quite different to us, it's quite skilful, so I think it's going to be quite good for my football game as well to go there and challenge myself that way."