Japan hammer Spain as Australia face must-win World Cup clash

AFP , Monday 31 Jul 2023

Japan sent a Women's World Cup warning with a clinical 4-0 thrashing of Spain on Monday, as co-hosts Australia faced having to beat Canada or risk an unthinkable exit in the first round.

Japan midfielder Hinata Miyazawa scores against Spain (AFP)

The 2011 champions Japan were 3-0 up by half-time in Wellington as they surged to a victory that allowed them to finish top of Group C and set up a last-16 tie against Norway.

Hinata Miyazawa scored twice either side of a Riko Ueki goal, with Mina Tanaka wrapping up a stunning win late on.

Their first win in five attempts over Spain was so comprehensive it suggests 11th-ranked Japan may be contenders to win the tournament.

They finish the group stage with 11 goals, more than any other team, while they are one of four sides yet to concede.

Miyazawa, who was substituted at half-time, is also the tournament's leading scorer with four goals.

The opener came in the 12th minute when Miyazawa outpaced the Spain defence to reach Jun Endo's curling pass from halfway before slotting low past goalkeeper Misa Rodriguez.

Miyazawa turned provider in the 29th minute, driving forward before finding Ueki, whose shot took a giant deflection off Irene Paredes on its way in.

Another rapid counter gave Miyazawa space and the striker blasted powerfully past Rodriguez five minutes before the interval.

Substitute Tanaka's sensational 82nd-minute goal came after a sizzling solo run from the touchline that turned the defence inside out.

Spain, who like Japan had already qualified for the last 16 before this game, finish as runners-up in their group and now play Switzerland in the first knockout round in Auckland on Saturday.

In the other Group C game, Zambia won a Women's World Cup match for the first time with a 3-1 victory over Costa Rica as they ended their tournament on a high.

With both teams already eliminated before the clash in Hamilton, defender Lushomo Mweemba put Zambia in front after just three minutes.

Skipper and star striker Barbra Banda made it 2-0 with a penalty just after the half-hour, and Racheal Kundananji got their third after Melissa Herrera had pulled one back.

- Kerr back on bench -

Australia's star forward and captain Sam Kerr was named on the bench after injury for their Group B decider against Canada in Melbourne where only a win would guarantee them a place in the last 16.

Kerr missed the Matildas' first two matches, in which they beat the Republic of Ireland 1-0 but then lost 3-2 to Nigeria.

She declared herself available after a calf injury but it was unclear how much of a part she could play against the Olympic champions.

Australia went into the game a point behind both Canada and Nigeria, and a draw could only be enough for the co-hosts to go through should the Nigerians lose to Ireland in Brisbane at the same time.

Otherwise, they would have to win to avoid suffering the same fate as New Zealand and being eliminated from their home World Cup in the first round.

- US warning -

On Tuesday the United States and England will look to seal their last-16 spots.

The Americans are pursuing winning a third World Cup in a row but have been far from their best and were held 1-1 by the Netherlands last time out.

The USA may need a big win to finish on top of Group E ahead of the Netherlands, but a shock defeat would almost certainly end their tournament.

"The most important thing obviously is getting in the knockout stage first and foremost and that is our main focus right now," said their coach, Vlatko Andonovski.

"We don't want to look two, three or four steps forward. If we start thinking too far ahead, our chance may never come."

The Dutch face already eliminated Vietnam in the other match in the group.

Also on Tuesday, England only need a draw against China to be sure of going through but will be without key midfielder Keira Walsh due to injury.

Denmark, who are in pole position to get out of Group D with England, face Haiti.

(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports.)

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