Zambia 0-5 Japan: Floodgates open in free-scoring second half

Zambia made their FIFA Women’s World Cup debut on Saturday, 22 July – as they faced former champions Japan in Hamilton. The African nation had been dealt a serious blow just a day before their opening appearance, as news broke that Grace Chanda had been hospitalised with an unconfirmed illness.

ZAM: Musonda; Tembo, Mweembo, Musesa, Belemu; Kundananji, Lungu, S Banda, Katongo; B Banda, Mapepa

JPN: Yamashita; Minami, Kumagai, Ishikawa; Endo, Nagano, Hasegawa, Shimizu; Miyazawa, Fujino; Tanaka

Japan’s early pressure forced Musonda into action to deny Fujino’s strike that was seemingly destined to creep in under the crossbar, though the forward’s effort was tipped over the woodwork by the ‘keeper.

But with her goalmouth very much under the cosh in the opening exchanges, Musonda was left helpless as Fujino struck a speculative effort from long-range. The curling shot dipped, and while the ‘keeper was beaten, the ball thundered against the woodwork to ensure the game remained goalless a little longer.

Japan’s first-half performance certainly showed much-needed signs of improvement from their underwhelming 2019 campaign, and with twenty minutes on the clock, the nadeshiko thought they’d found their well-deserved breakthrough. From a free-kick delivery, Tanaka pounced from close range – but a VAR review found that the Japanese striker was offside and the goal was promptly chalked off.

With half-time fast approaching, Fujino benefitted from Japan’s best chance of the opening half as a deft touch allowed her to compose herself before thundering a shot towards Musonda’s goal – but the well-timed run of the Zambian defence ensured her strike was deflected waywards.

Musonda was certainly being put to work, but rose to the challenge in Nali’s absence – pushing Nagano’s dipping effort over the horizontal with just minutes remaining before the break. Still, Japan would head into the half-time interval ahead with the ‘keeper unable to prevent Miyazawa’s strike as she turned home a cross from the right flank.

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Tanaka thought she’d doubled Japan’s lead just minutes into the second half, though a brief VAR check revealed that she’d made her run just a fraction of a second too early and found herself in an offside position. The nadeshiko’s disappointment would be worsened seconds later, with a penalty denied for Musonda’s mistimed challenge on Fujino – who, like Tanaka, had strayed offside in the buildup.

But the euphoria was merited as Japan turned the ball over the line for the fourth time, with Tanaka perfectly timing her run to slot Endo’s cross into the bottom-right corner. It had certainly been coming – and there was a palpable sense of relief when it finally arrived. The third could have followed soon after, though inexperience shone through as Fujino blasted over the woodwork on her World Cup debut.

The Zambian defence had been so utterly impressive for large parts of the first half, though they crumbled in the final period – with Musonda failing to deal with Endo’s low cross, allowing Miyazawa to slide home for her second of the match.

The floodgates had seemingly opened, and just ten minutes after providing the assist for Japan’s third goal, Endo got herself on the scoresheet with the nadeshiko’s fourth of the match. Hasegawa’s assist was precise, taking the pressure off the wing-back as she powered a composed effort into the far corner.

Musonda, who had already received a yellow for her earlier rash challenge on Tanaka, was dismissed for a second bookable offence in stoppage time as she downed Ueki with a similarly reckless challenge. Sakala stepped up to make her international debut, and saved Ueki’s penalty effort with her first ever touch on the world stage – but a VAR check found she’d ventured off her line, and wasn’t able to deny the striker on her second attempt.

Group C action returns on Wednesday, 26 July as Japan face Costa Rica at 6am UK time. Zambia will return to action at 8:30am, as they face Spain – who are widely regarded as potential favourites for the trophy.

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