Day seven of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup saw the continuation of the second matchday, with both Spain and Japan producing statement wins to reach the round of 16, setting up an epic match between the pair next week to see who will top Group C.
The wins also mean that Costa Rica and Zambia were the first two teams eliminated from the tournament. The Republic of Ireland later joined them after Canada came from behind in Group B.
Canada managed to mount a comeback after going a goal down to eventually beat the Republic of Ireland 2-1, knocking the debutants out of the World Cup in the process.
Irish captain Katie McCabe showcased her skills by scoring her side’s first ever World Cup goal with a fantastic corner just four minutes into the game.
The Girls in Green even had some chances to extend their lead against the reigning Olympic champions. But, right before half-time, Canada turned the tide as Julia Grosso’s cross took a lucky touch off defender Megan Connolly and found the bottom corner.
Canada, introducing veteran players Christine Sinclair and Sophie Schmidt at the break, finally found their rhythm and managed to secure the lead. Manchester United’s Adriana Leon sealed the deal with a well-taken and decisive goal eight minutes into the second half.
Despite being Olympic champions, Canada have historically struggled during World Cups, especially in front of goal, so the match-winning strike being from open play should be a massive to boost their confidence going into their final group match against co-hosts Australia.
“I’m just really proud of them. The first 20 minutes the occasion got to them,” said manager Bev Priestman. “Second half, it’s what I love about this team. They did whatever it took to win.”
Ireland’s final match in Group B will be against Nigeria.
“At the end of the first half, you have to keep everything tight,” said Ireland manager Vera Pauw.
“There was no cover, so they had a free cross. We felt like we controlled the game in the first half. We can proud of what we showed but we’re out.”
Japan scored two goals in two minutes against Costa Rica to secure them a spot in the knockout rounds, marking their fourth consecutive entry into the last 16 of the World Cup.
Manager Futoshi Ikeda opted to switch things up from the opening win against Zambia, replacing Yui Hasegawa with Mina Tanaka as an advanced playmaker, with Hasegawa then pushed back into a deeper role. Despite the change, Japan still looked as dynamic as ever.
In the 25th minute, Hikaru Naomoto capatalised off of a slip-up from Maria Coto, striking a powerful shot into the bottom corner, leaving little chance for keeper Daniela Solera.
Two minutes later, Aoba Fujino showed some brilliant skill to rid herself of the defender, charged straight toward the goal, and beat Solera at her near post from a tight angle to double Japan’s lead.
Despite their dominance, Japan will need to take a look at their chance conversion. Despite cruising to victory, they had 26 shots, 15 of them being on target. They will be punished by stronger teams, like Spain, who they play next to decide who tops the group, if they don’t learn to take their chances. But for Ikeda, the wins are what is keeping this side motivated.
“We did what we needed to do and we did it well,” the coach said. “We’ve prioritised winning points. The players came here with a serious goal in mind and we’re all looking towards that same goal.”
For Costa Rica, questions will be asked about the defensive lapses, with Solera’s 10 saves being part of the reason Japan didn’t absolutely run riot in the end. She had done similar against Spain too.
Jenni Hermoso and Alba Redondo shone for Spain as they thrashed Zambia to book a last 16 spot.
Jorge Vilda’s side took the lead as early as the ninth minute with a stunning long-range strike from the once more impressive Teresa Abelleira. Hermoso, celebrating her 100th appearance for the national team, doubled the lead just four minutes later with a brilliant header.
While the early goals hinted at a big win, Zambia held on well until the final quarter of the game.
In the 69th minute. substitute Redondo neatly rounded the goalkeeper before Hermoso notched her 50th international goal after a lengthy VAR check. Redondo netted a fifth in the final moments.
A lot of excitement from fans was due to Alexia Putellas, who made her first start of the World Cup – also her first start in a competitive setting for 14 months. The two-time Ballon d’Or winner’s minutes have been managed since coming back from her ACL injury, but showed little signs of rustiness.
In his post-match press confrence, Vilda made note of Japan only scoring two goals in their match against Costa Rica, meaning that should the two teams ending drawing their match on Monday, Spain would go through on goal difference.
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