With both teams having already secured qualification to the knockout stages of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, there is just one thing left to decide in this crunch tie in Group C – the winners. Yet bizarrely, finishing in second place may be more beneficial for both sides – as the table toppers would go on to face Norway, while the runners-up would be handed a round-of-sixteen tie against Switzerland.
Japan’s tournament commenced with a rather comprehensive thrashing of Zambia, with all but one of their five goals coming in the second half as the Copper Queens’ inexperience on the global stage came to light. Minami Tanaka was the star of the show, having two goals disallowed before ultimately scoring a goal that would stand in the 55th minute.
That comfortable win against African opposition was followed by another three points against Amelia Valverde’s Costa Rica. In Dunedin, two quickfire goals just before the half-hour mark saw the Nadeshiko assert their dominance on the fixture – with Minami Tanaka providing the assists for both strikes as she further established herself as the player to watch in this Japanese side.
With Alexia Putellas limited to a cameo appearance in the final twenty minutes, Spain cruised to a 3-0 win over Costa Rica in their opening match. Three goals in ten first-half minutes wrapped up the comfortable victory for Jorge Vilda’s side, who looked to make a statement after the las 15 controversy in the buildup to the tournament.
Putellas returned to the starting eleven against Zambia, and provided the assist for la Roja’s second goal as Jenni Hermoso netted on her 100th cap for the national team. While Putellas was subbed off at half-time, the Spaniards’ unrelenting attack never ceased to pose a threat – with Jenni Hermoso completing a brace to find her fiftieth foal for la Roja, while Alba Redondo also bagged two after replacing Putellas at the interval. A superb 5-0 win moved Jorge Vilda’s side to the top of Group C on goal difference, sealing their participation in the round-of-sixteen.
As Japan and Spain prepare for this pivotal clash in Wellington, it’s la Roja that hold the top spot – though they may prefer to let Japan claim that on Monday. Spain are billed as a team that could reach the latter stages of this tournament, and potentially go on to win it, so while they shouldn’t be afraid to face Norway, playing the Swiss would arguably be preferable. Japan would need a win to progress as group winners, while a draw or a Spanish victory would see la Roja go through as champions of Group C.
Shiori Miyake and Hikaru Naomoto are both expected to retain their places in the Japanese starting lineup, having impressed against Costa Rica. We’d expect to see Fuka Nagano return to the lineup, having missed out on that clash with the African minnows.
Having bagged a brace in her substitute appearance against Zambia, Alba Redondo may manage to work her way into the starting eleven for Spain – with Jorge Vilda likely to see this as the best opportunity for the Levante forward to prove her worth. Alexia Putellas is expected to start for la Roja after playing 45 minutes against Zambia, but with Spain’s progress already confirmed, Jorge Vilda may opt to remove her after an hour or so.
Japan: Yamashita; Miyake, Kumagai, Minami; Shimizu, Hayashi, Sugita, Nagano; Naomoto, Tanaka, Fujino
Spain: Misa; Batlle, Paredes, Ivana, Carmona; Abelleira, Bonmatí, Putellas; Redondo, Caldentey, Hermoso