Women’s World Cup Daily: Matildas send Canada out; Japan cruise

The 2023 Women’s World Cup is in full swing, and these daily files will give you the latest reporting from around the tournament as well as betting lines, what-to-watch-for information and best reads. Check in with ESPN throughout the tournament as we bring you the latest from Australia and New Zealand.

The lead: Australia can breathe again; Japan put on a show

After 11 days of nervous anticipation, Australia collectively exhaled. Sam Kerr‘s calf injury has been the talk of the World Cup, but though she said she was fit to play, she kept her coat on and watched as the Matildas booked their spot in the knockout stages as group winners thanks to a commanding 4-0 win over Canada.

With New Zealand already out, the tournament needed the other co-hosts to stay in the mix. Australia’s hopes were in the balance after they lost 3-2 to Nigeria in the previous game, and the buildup to Monday’s clash with Canada in Melbourne was dominated by Kerr talk. The Advertiser newspaper had a photo of her on the back page alongside the caption, “In Case of Emergency: Break Glass.” As it transpired, they didn’t need to activate the emergency option, giving her a few more days to recover.

Australia put in their most complete performance to dismantle Canada, ending the Olympic champions’ hopes in the process, with Hayley Raso‘s double alongside Mary Fowler‘s second-half tap-in and a Steph Catley penalty enough to steer them through safely. They’ll be joined by Nigeria, who drew 0-0 with the Republic of Ireland and head through in second place. Attention for Australia will now be split over how close Kerr is to playing while eagerly anticipating a knockout clash against whoever finishes second out of England, China and Denmark.

Women’s World Cup: Landing page | Schedule | Rosters | News
How teams can qualify for the round of 16

Earlier in the day, of all the breathtaking performances we’ve seen at the World Cup, Japan’s first-half demolition of Spain will take some beating. Futoshi Ikeda’s side ended up winning 4-0 but played with wonderful freedom and ruthlessness as they cut the much-fancied Roja apart, using their rapid counterattacks and precise passing to brilliant effect to take a 3-0 lead into the break.

Both teams had already booked their spot in the knockouts, with the winner of the group facing Norway and the runner-up Switzerland, but this was a World Cup statement from Japan. Their return of 11 goals and none conceded in their three matches was remarkable and further justification for their credentials as tournament contenders.

Elsewhere in Group C, the lowest-ranked side at the tournament, Zambia, ended things on a winning note to defeat Costa Rica 3-1 for their first World Cup win in history. And a number of records were broken along the way. — Tom Hamilton

News of the day

• In the 4-0 win over Spain, Japan (23%) had the lowest share of possession for a winning side at the FIFA Women’s World Cup since 2011. Japan boast the same record in the men’s tournament (since 1966): 18% in the 2-1 win over Spain in 2022.

“[The team is] pissed off, I am very pissed off,” Spain’s Aitana Bonmatí said after the game. “We have to be able to move forward however possible; you have to ride with the punches in football. Today was not our best game, and we know we have to improve a lot of things if we want to continue in the tournament.

“Japan played a really intelligent game. I personally was surprised by their tactics, a low block waiting for our mistakes and attacking on the counter, where they killed us. We have to learn from this, first of all how to attack low blocks, because I am sure other teams will play the same way, and then when we’re attacking, how to be prepared to defend transitions. We lacked that, when we made errors, we have to be ready for the counters. They killed us there, nearly all Japan’s goals were the same, no?”



Marsden: Big worrying signs for Spain after Japan demolition

Sam Marsden reacts to Spain’s disastrous performance in their 4-0 loss to Japan at the World Cup.

Germany coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg said her players need to play smarter and had only themselves to blame for their shock 2-1 loss to Colombia.

“I think you have to play deep then; I don’t think that we should have acted like this,” Voss-Tecklenburg said. “And that’s where we need to learn our lessons, we needed to focus on ending the game 1-1 but I think my team rather tried to win 2-1. We need to be smarter than that, we need to think of the result. Because of our goal difference, with a draw we would have still been first [in the group], which would have been good for us mentally.”

Meanwhile, Colombia assistant coach Angelo Marsiglia, fresh from the frenzied postmatch celebrations, said it felt like a home game because of the passion of the Colombia fans. “We could feel the backing of our fans at all times,” he said.

• The pressure is mounting for the United States women’s national team ahead of a pivotal final group game against Portugal on Tuesday. If the Americans lose, they will be eliminated from the tournament, but coach Vlatko Andonovski said he’s not letting the pressure get to him. “I don’t know how it is with the other coaches and the other national teams, but the moment you sit in this chair — the moment I sat in this chair in 2019 — is when the pressure starts,” Andonovski told a news conference on Monday. “This isn’t something new. The only thing that changed from 2019 to now is I just learned how to turn the pressure into excitement. I came into this World Cup not thinking, ‘Oh my gosh’ — it’s, ‘We’re having a chance to compete for a title.'”

Today in USWNT camp

The USWNT’s rather ho-hum performances so far in this edition of the tournament have created a vibe that while elimination is highly unlikely — the U.S. has beaten Portugal 10 times in 10 attempts, and never conceded — it is within the realm of possibility. It wouldn’t be the first time that a set-piece goal or a controversial call propelled an underdog to an upset of a presumed heavyweight at a World Cup. That has ratcheted up the intensity and reminded the USWNT of what’s at stake.

“Of course there’s a little bit of anxiousness anytime there’s a result that needs to be had, that has a little bit of feeling to it, but I think that’s exciting,” said forward Megan Rapinoe. “I think everybody knows that too. Everybody’s like, ‘OK, we have to perform better and we have to get this result.'”

Jeff Carlisle reports on how the USWNT must ride pressure vs. Portugal in their key World Cup clash.

Sights and sounds

Matildas waltz past Canada to progress

MELBOURNE, Australia — Four years ago, it was the “Miracle of Montpellier” and a defiant message to “suck on that one” that pulled a Matildas World Cup campaign back from the edge of an abyss, a moment where Australia’s women confronted (footballing) oblivion and rose to meet it head-on.

Time will tell whether Monday’s game earns itself a similar moniker to that famous win over Brazil — using Miracle again, even if the alliteration works with Melbourne, feels a bit trite and a furious comeback wasn’t needed this time — but the emotional release was evident as the Matildas downed Canada and secured their progression to the round of 16.

When referee Stephanie Frappart emerged from reviewing Hayley Raso’s opener to declare that, yes, it was a goal, the stadium exploded in a joyous tide of noise and flailing limbs. In the aftermath of Mary Fowler’s would-be second, cameras settled upon a fan in a Matildas beanie sobbing into the arms of the person to her left, unable to suppress the sheer (fleeting) joy. When Raso scored her second and darted toward the corner flag, a gentleman sitting in the front row — clad in a green and gold chef’s outfit — struggled to unfurl his banner under the sheer weight of it all.

By the time the full-time whistle blew and the result was confirmed, it was almost as if the entire nation, after spending the past four days running through every doomsday scenario in their heads and trying to spiritually prepare themselves for a reality in which Australia crashed out of a home World Cup, could collectively exhale. Yes, expectation and the Sam Kerr conundrum will again begin to nag away in the days ahead, as well as what an exit in the round of 16 would mean in the grand scheme of things. But for one night, at least, everything went right. Everything was good. The Matildas were good. So good. — Joey Lynch

Nigeria hold off Ireland to make it through

BRISBANE, Australia — Playing to cement their place in the round of 16, Nigeria failed to break the deadlock against the Republic of Ireland, despite their many chances, but progressed given the 4-0 drubbing Australia handed Canada in Melbourne.

Atop the table before the game kicked off, Nigeria were the lowest-ranked team in Group B at No. 40 and now go through unbeaten. With plenty of chances to score, Nigeria failed to find the net — with one shot ricocheting off the crossbar and bouncing back out again — but didn’t need to as a draw proved enough.

Ireland will take pride out of the clash, and bow out of their first tournament with their first points. While they couldn’t find the net, they repeatedly put Nigeria under pressure with 49% of possession and four attempts at goal. — Brittany Mitchell



How ‘achingly clinical’ Japan dismantled Spain in Wellington

Sophie Lawson reacts to Japan’s stunning 4-0 win over Spain at the Women’s World Cup.

Clinical Japan give Spain a wake-up call

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Japan dished out a lesson in efficiency as they beat Spain 4-0 to win Group C and set up a round-of-16 meeting with Norway. Spain enjoyed all the possession and made all the passes, but were repeatedly torn apart on the break as Japan ruthlessly exposed their defensive deficiencies. All three shots Japan had in the first half ended in the back of the net, with two Hinata Miyazawa strikes sandwiching a goal from Riko Ueki to kill the game before the break. Mina Tanaka added the fourth late on.

While Japan and Spain had both qualified prior to Monday’s game at Wellington Regional Stadium, both coaches had talked up the fixture as a chance to test themselves against superior opposition following routine wins over Costa Rica and Zambia. It was Japan who came out of the tussle on top, though, as they laid down a marker for the tournament. They were a well-oiled machine in defence, limiting Spain to possession out of the box, and were clinical on the counter. Miyazawa dazzled with a brace — and was even given a rest in the second half — and Ueki chipped in with a goal and an assist. Spain continued to probe to little effect and were punished again in the 82nd minute when substitute Tanaka twisted into the box and fired home.

La Roja will have to hope this serves as a wake-up call. There was another 60 minutes for Alexia Putellas as she continued her recovery from a long-term injury, although she was kept quiet, and they are still alive in the competition. They meet Switzerland in the next round in Auckland on Saturday and will have to be better than this. — Sam Marsden

Zambia out after making history

Not only did debutantes Zambia score their first goals in the Women’s World Cup, in a 3-1 win against Costa Rica, they also broke records along the way and exceeded expectations as the lowest-ranked side at the tournament.

Defender Lushomo Mweemba scored the fastest goal so far, with a spectacular volley after two minutes and 11 seconds. Then Barbra Banda netted the 1,000th goal in Women’s World Cup history with a penalty just after the half-hour mark.

The African side stayed strong in the second half after Costa Rica got a quick goal back, before finishing off the game in the 93rd minute with a goal from Racheal Kundananji. The win wasn’t enough to progress from Group C, as Japan and Spain were already through, but by finishing third in the group, Zambia did themselves and their country proud. — Julien Laurens



Megan Rapinoe: USWNT in a good place ahead of Portugal match

Megan Rapinoe previews the United States women’s final group stage match against Portugal on Tuesday.

Match previews for July 31

Odds via Caesars Sportsbook.

Group E: Portugal vs. United States – (Eden Park, Auckland; 7 p.m. local / 3 a.m. ET / 8 a.m. UK)

The U.S. women’s national team faces a can’t-lose scenario against Portugal to finish Group E. Assuming Netherlands win their game against Vietnam, which is the most likely scenario, a loss would send the USWNT home in the group stage — nothing short of a catastrophe. The USWNT has never failed to reach the semifinals of a World Cup.

Of course, with a win — again assuming Netherlands also win — the USWNT is guaranteed of topping Group E and taking a far easier path through the tournament.

U.S. coach Vlatko Andonovski said on Monday that he’s not thinking about such permutations. “We’ve talked a lot about it, and one thing’s for sure: We have a job to do first and foremost, and that’s to take care of our game,” he said. “So our focus right now is on our performance and on Portugal.”

The U.S. and Portugal have met 10 times throughout history. The USWNT has won every time, but the most recent meeting was a close 1-0 win. — Caitlin Murray

Group E: Vietnam vs. Netherlands – (Forsyth Barr, Dunedin; 7 p.m. local / 3 a.m. ET / 8 a.m. UK)

Heading into their fixture with Vietnam, Netherlands’ objective at the “Glasshouse” is two-fold. First, secure a win to ensure that any kind of miraculous performance by Portugal in their simultaneous Group E kickoff against the United States doesn’t bundle them out at the group stage. Then, put as many goals past their opponents as they can until they have erased the deficit in goal difference to assure top spot in the group.

Despite scoring just a single goal in both fixtures to this point — they are without the services of star striker Vivianne Miedema as she recovers from an ACL injury — Lieke Martens & Co. could take inspiration from Spain having put nine past Vietnam in an unofficial, pre-World Cup friendly.

Key in all this, though, will likely be which Vietnam side arrives in Dunedin. Will it be the outfit that was disciplined and determined on the way to frustrating the United States and keeping it to a 3-0 margin in their opening game? Or will it be the unit that often looked at sixes and sevens against the Portuguese in their following fixture? In that game, the 2-0 margin of victory belied a performance that, on another day, could have and possibly should have been much more. — Joey Lynch

Group D: Haiti vs. Denmark – (Perth Rectangular; 7 p.m. local / 7 a.m. ET / noon UK)

Denmark have their destiny in their own hands, and a win against minnows Haiti would see them qualify for the round of 16 as long as they score more goals than China in a potential (although unlikely) victory against England. The objective before the tournament for Lars Sondergaard’s team was to get out of the group and then get as far as possible.

They have had a mixed run so far. They beat China 1-0 with a poor performance, then created enough chances to get at least a point after conceding an early goal in a defeat to England. Pernille Harder, the side’s captain and best player, is yet to score, so she needs to step up.

For Haiti, it is about finishing the tournament on a high. In their first World Cup, the 53rd ranked team in the world can be proud of themselves with two narrow losses against England and China where they had chances to score. It has been a great learning curve, and if they can get at least a point against Denmark, it would be amazing. Prodigy Melchie Dumornay, who was only on the bench against China and came on at half-time, could be key to them defying the odds and causing another upset in this tournament. — Julien Laurens

Group D: China vs. England – (Hindmarsh, Adelaide; 8:30 p.m. local / 7 a.m. ET / noon UK)

England need a point to guarantee top spot in Group D, while China’s hopes hang in the balance with their prospects partly reliant on how Denmark do against Haiti. However, China are looking to score their first goal against a European opponent in a World Cup since 2015 and will be without the suspended Zhang Rui. They know they realistically need to score a couple of times to boost qualification prospects. “The spirit is never give up, never surrender, as you have seen,” Wang Shanshan said Monday. “Our opponents are stronger and more powerful individually, but we did our best and we carry out our instructions from the coach so we did our best.”

The main narrative around England since their 1-0 win over Denmark has been concerning the fitness of midfielder Keira Walsh. Walsh misses the match with the knee injury she sustained on Friday and England will look to alternative options in the middle. Laura Coombs is favourite to start, given she replaced Walsh on Friday, but Jordan Nobbs and Katie Zelem will also push their cases. England have put together back-to-back 1-0 wins so far in Australia and will be hoping for more of the same on Tuesday, with Lauren James again looking to shine after her wondergoal against Denmark. — Tom Hamilton

Features of the day

Japan should fear no-one after statement win over Spain
After a statement win over Spain, Japan should not fear any team they will come up against in the FIFA Women’s World Cup knockout stage.

Nnadozie shining as Nigeria eyes knockouts
Meet Chiamaka Nnadozie, Nigeria’s goalkeeper and captain, whose clutch shot-stopping has been pivotal to her team’s success at the World Cup.

England face China, the Women’s World Cup’s unknown quantity
England’s final group game will be against China on Tuesday, but even after two matchdays of the World Cup, many are still asking: Who are the Steel Roses?

And, finally …

Arsenal and England defender Lotte Wubben-Moy has a unique way of remembering her time at major tournaments.

The 24-year-old took an artistic approach to Euro 2022 and is now producing a “World Cup Doodle Diary” for her time in Australia and New Zealand.

“My approach to art and doodling is that anyone can do it,” she told Lionesses: Down Under. “You can probably just doodle on a napkin and it would be something exciting, something cool. That’s my take on it and what I enjoy so much about it, the fact that anyone can do it and it’s what you make of it.

“To me the lines of creativity are blurred, you step on the pitch, you’re creating passes. You see Keira [Walsh] picking out a pass, that’s a creation in itself and that lives on as hers. We share it with other people, the same way we share in art museums or, like myself, sharing my art on Instagram for everyone to see. I would like to remove barriers to art and creativity as much as possible.”

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