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WOMEN'S FOOTBALL

Five-star Spain cruise into World Cup knockouts with thumping win over Zambia

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FIFA Women's World Cup Australia and New Zealand 2023 - Group C - Spain v Zambia - Eden Park, Auckland, New Zealand - July 26, 2023 Zambia's Barbra Banda in action with Spain's Alexia Putellas REUTERS/David Rowland

Spain underlined their credentials as pre-tournament favourites when they became one of the first teams to seal qualification for the Women’s World Cup knockouts with a 5-0 win over Zambia in their second Group C encounter on Wednesday.

Teresa Abelleira opened the scoring while Jennifer Hermoso and Alba Redondo scored twice to give Spain their second victory, which also assured Japan of last-16 qualification after they beat Costa Rica 2-0 earlier on Wednesday.

 

Both Spain and Japan have six points and will play each other on Monday for top spot in the group while Zambia and Costa Rica – both eliminated – will play for third.

Spain were given a boost ahead of the game when coach Jorge Vilda named midfielder Alexia Putellas in the starting lineup and the twice Ballon d’Or winner, having fully recovered from injury, was actively involved in buildup play from the start.

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Abelleira settled any opening nerves with the fastest goal of the tournament when she picked up the ball after an intricate passing move in the ninth minute and fired a shot from long range that rocketed into the top corner.

Four minutes later, Hermoso marked her 100th appearance for Spain with an easy header at the far post after Zambia failed to defend a cross from Putellas.

Vilda substituted Putellas, Ona Batlle and Salma Paralluelo at halftime but Spain continued to dominate.

Zambia goalkeeper Eunice Sakala, in the team after Catherine Musonda was sent off in their group opener, made several saves but she was left stranded when Redondo was put through on goal as the forward rounded the 21-year-old keeper to make it 3-0.

VAR CONFUSION

Hermoso then grabbed her second — and 50th for Spain — when she pounced on a rebound off the post to fire home, a goal awarded after a VAR review and following some confusion over the referee’s initial announcement that it was ruled out for offside.

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“No goal! No offside,” referee Jeong Oh-Hyeon said before correcting herself as a bewildered Spain looked on before realising it had been awarded.

Redondo then beat the offside trap late in the game to score Spain’s fifth, also awarded after a VAR review when the assistant referee flagged for offside.

Zambia had their chances on the counter-attack but failed to test Misa Rodriguez in Spain’s goal with a number of wayward shots.

“Spain are very experienced… we are just developing, we still need more experience,” Zambia skipper Barbra Banda said.

“When you create chances, definitely you have to score. Unfortunately we didn’t find any goal.”

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Sakala had the final say, however, when she made a string of saves to deny both Hermoso and Redondo from claiming hat-tricks.

“Today’s game, we actually played much better than we did the first game,” Zambia coach Bruce Mwape said.

“Spain has got a lot of experience and they’ve played well starting from the first whistle up to the final (whistle).

“I’m sure we have learned one or two things from this team. We will try and do our best in the last game (against Costa Rica).”

-Reuters

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Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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