Spain, one of many people’s ante-post favourites to lift the 2023 Women’s World Cup – and in turn their maiden overall success in the tournament – surprisingly began the match without dual Ballon d’Or Féminin winner Alexia Putellas, as the talismanic midfielder was named among the substitutes as she continues her long road to full recovery from a harrowing ACL injury.
Meanwhile, after only one victory covering a disheartening 11-match sequence, Group C outsiders Costa Rica began the match surprisingly without Raquel Rodríguez, despite the experienced attacking midfielder netting 55 goals across a century of appearances for her country.
SPA: Rodríguez; Batlle, Paredes, Carmona, Andrés; Abelleira, Bonmati; Hermoso, Paralluelo, del Castillo; González
CRC: Solera; F Villalobos, del Campo, Benavides; Coto, Alvarado, G Villalobos, Elizondo; Herrera, Salas, Chinchilla
Experiencing the taste of defeat on their palates on only a solitary occasion over their previous 14 matches, Spain began on the front foot in Wellington as only the acrobatics of Daniela Solera prevented Ivana Andrés from heading home her maiden goal on the international stage.
However, Costa Rica’s number one was helpless to prevent Spain from breaking the deadlock in the 21st minute as Valeria del Campo inadvertently sent Esther González’s dangerous-looking delivery into the box beyond the grasp of her own goalkeeper. Things did not take long to get even worse for Amelia Valverde’s side, as only two minutes later, Aitana Bonmati majestically pivoted with the ball at her feet in the area before unleashing an exquisite curling strike into the far corner to double Spain’s lead.
With victory already looking like being assured, a goal-hungry González ended any doubt, and in turn, culminate a merciless seven-minute spell in front of goal, instinctively getting her head to the ball first to convert from close range after Jennifer Hermoso’s effort had rebounded back into her path via the crossbar.
Now determined to get her name onto the scoresheet after being agonisingly denied by the woodwork, Hermoso was presented with a glorious opportunity to do that seven minutes later after Fabiola Villalobos had brought a clinical conclusion to Olga Carmona’s marauding forward run into the area. However, the all-time leading goalscorer in Spanish women’s football failed to take advantage, as Solera guessed the right way of the midfielder’s modest penalty to celebrate ecstatically on her 26th birthday.
Not content with only a hat-trick of goals in the opening 45 minutes, Spain came close to adding a so-far elusive fourth just five minutes into the second half, as Carmona’s fearsome strike shaved the paintwork atop Solera’s goal. Despite already being beaten on three occasions, Costa Rica’s birthday girl remained in good spirits as La Sele‘s number one kept the scoreline to a respectable one by initially denying the same player with a sublime diving save to her right before preventing Andrés’ header from hitting the back of the net with an equally exquisite save to her left.
Despite a downpour of rain in Wellington, the unexpected interchange in the weather would surely not have kept the smiles off the faces of the Spanish contingent watching all over the world. After heartbreakingly missing the delayed 2021 European Championships due to injury, Putellas emerged from the dugout to make her overdue return by replacing Salma Paralluelo with 13 minutes left of regulation time.
Putellas’ comeback to the national side proved to be the concluding chapter of the contest, as Spain begin their 2023 WWC account with a historical victory ahead of a clash with Zambia on Wednesday, knowing a win will surely secure their place in the knockout stages. Meanwhile, Costa Rica now need to emerge from their match against Japan with all three points to stand any hope of joining Jorge Vilda’s side in the round-of-sixteen.