Spain runs riot as La Roja and Japan become first two teams to qualify for knockout stage of Women’s World Cup

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Women’s World Cup 2023: Live scores, fixtures, results, tables and top scorers

Spain and Japan became the first two teams to book their spots in the knockout stage of the 2023 Women’s World Cup on Wednesday.

Japan comfortably beat Costa Rica 2-0 to all but guarantee its qualification before Spain’s dominant 5-0 win over Zambia assured that both teams made it to the last 16.

The two sides will face each other in the finale of Group C on Monday, July 31, knowing that the winner will face the runner-up of Group A and the loser will face the top team of Group A.

Tournament favorites?

After its straightforward opening win against Costa Rica and with a plethora of stars at its disposal, many are tipping Spain to make it deep into the Women’s World Cup.

And La Roja once again proved its title credentials from the opening exchanges against Zambia at Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand.

Its slick interchange between its attacking talent – including Jennifer Hermoso, two-time Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas and her Barcelona teammates Aitana Bonmatí and Salma Paralluelo – had the Zambia defense lost at sea and was a delight to watch.

But it was the team’s holding midfielder, Teresa Abelleira, who broke the deadlock in emphatic fashion.

In the ninth minute, Abelleira picked up the ball on the edge of the box before smashing it into the top corner – the fastest goal of the tournament so far.

Just five minutes later, the lead was doubled as Hermoso headed home from the far post after an exquisite Putellas cross set the 33-year-old up on her 100th national team appearance.

With an early lead, Spain turned on the style, leaving the Zambia defense flummoxed as it attempted to stop the waves of attacks.

After the halftime break, Zambia put in a much more impressive display, offering much more of an attacking threat to a Spanish defense that had been rarely tested throughout its first two matches.

However, Spain once again put the ball in the back of the net, with halftime substitute Alba Redondo coolly rounding the goalkeeper before tapping home in the 69th minute.

The lead ballooned to 4-0 just a minute later when Hermoso slammed home her second of the game – the goal was initially ruled out for offside but later awarded by the video assistant referee (VAR).

Despite bringing so much positivity and energy to the World Cup, Spain’s fourth goal seemed to dent Zambian spirits as the realization that their World Cup exit had been all but guaranteed.

It didn’t end there though for the African debutant with Hermoso missing out on a chance for a hat-trick by hitting the bar before Redondo got her second of the game with a calm finish from the center of the box.

The late flurry capped off an emphatic overall performance from Spain which sees it and Japan through to the next round where both teams could face any of the teams in Group A with all outcomes possible with one game left; all of Switzerland, New Zealand, the Philippines and Norway can make it to the knockout round.

In form Japan

Having comfortably beaten Zambia 5-0 in its opening game, Japan continued its impressive showing at the World Cup against Costa Rica.

Through its slick passing maneuvers and tactical rigidity, it looked a class above the world No. 36, creating chances at will.

The breakthrough finally came in the 25th minute, Naomoto emphatically punishing an ill-timed mistake from a Costa Rican defender, powering the ball into the bottom corner to open the scoring.

And just two minutes later, the Asian nation had its second of the game.

19-year-old forward Fujino, showing some tight dribbling skills and explosive speed to evade one defender, burst into the box before smashing the ball past Las Ticas goalkeeper Daniela Solera at her near post.

With its lead, Japan never let up, continuing to show its effective combination build up play and hard work off the ball as it stifled any Costa Rican attacks.

Although it will face much stiffer tests going forward, Japan has shown its credentials for competing for a second World Cup title.

As for Costa Rica, it will be eliminated from the World Cup if Spain avoids defeat against Zambia.

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