Spain 5-0 Zambia: Alexia Putellas returns to starting eleven as Hermoso wins 100th cap

Alexia Putellas returned to the starting eleven of Jorge Vilda’s Spanish side, as they took on Zambia at Eden Park. Against this incredible Spanish side, the Copper Queens were forced hand an opportunity to Sakala between the sticks after Musonda was dismissed in stoppage time of their loss against Japan.

ESP: Misa; Olga, Carmona, Andrés, Paredes, Batlle; Putellas, Abulleira, Bonmatí; Caldentey, Hermoso, Paralluelo

ZAM: Sakala; Tembo, Mweemba, Musesa, Belemu; Katongo, S Banda, Lunge; Mapepa, B Banda, Kundananji

Spain’s early pressure looked to pay off after just five minutes, as Sakala failed to adequately deal with two teasing balls in from the left flank. The goalkeeper’s inexperience was visible, as she parried both crosses back into the box – and the Copper Queens were lucky that Salma Paralluelo blazed her effort over the woodwork.

Yet la Roja catapulted themselves into the lead in spectacular fashion soon after, as Teresa Abulleira picked out the top corner with a thunderous strike from outside of the box. Neat linkup play saw Alexia Putellas and Jenni Hermoso both heavily involved, with the latter providing the crucial assist as Spain took a well-deserved lead.

Putellas’ involvement didn’t stop there though, with the Barça midfielder delivering a pinpoint cross from the left flank that was met beautifully by Hermoso on her 100th appearance for the national side – the striker leaving Sakala with almost no chance at the back post. Spain had doubled their lead, and with almost 75 minutes still to play, there would certainly be a fair few more goals for Jorge Vilda’s side.

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Barbra Banda proved to be a thorn in the side of the Spanish defence as the game matured though – and while her earlier tame effort failed to test Misa, she was undeterred as she sought to get the better of Andrés and Carmona.

Having scored la Roja’s second of the match, Jenni Hermoso looked to double her personal tally as half-time drew ever nearer. While she was able to slot a composed finish past Sakala, the offside flag was promptly raised – and the Club Pachuca striker would have to wait a little longer for her fiftieth international goal.

But Spain’s two-goal advantage looked to be under threat as Barbra Banda broke free on goal – though a perfectly timed challenge from Irene Paredes saw the ball sent out for a corner, much to the dismay of the excellent Zambian traveling support.

Bonmatí really should have extended the Spanish advantage deep in stoppage time, with the midfielder looking to slam home a powerful strike at the back post. Her effort was sent straight down the middle though, with Sakala able to smother easily.

Aitana Bonmatí was involved once again shortly after the break, as she was left unmarked in acres of space to divert a header towards goal. Sakala’s save was less than convincing, though a scrambled recovery saw her scoop the ball off the line just in time.

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The third goal did come for Spain though, with just over twenty minutes left to play. Alba Redondo did well to remain composed as she rounded Sakala, before side-footing an effort into an empty net. The fourth followed mere seconds later, as Jenni Hermoso finally netted her fiftieth goal for la Roja – a lengthy VAR review was riddled with confusion as the referee announced ‘no offside, no goal,’ but clarification was eventually received that the goal would stand after all.

The referee turned to VAR once more as Alba Redondo netted her second – and Spain’s fifth – of the match, turning home a cross from deep on the right flank. The decision was a close one that could have swung either way, but the referee’s announcement was thankfully clearer this time around.

A win for Spain ensures they’ll be heading through to the round-of-sixteen alongside Japan – with both sides set to clash on July 31, with the winner of that fixture receiving a more favourable placement in the knockout rounds. Costa Rica and Zambia are now mathematically unable to progress, but they’ll meet eachother on July 31 to play out their final group stage game.