Women’s World Cup Daily: Spain make a statement, Japan shine


The 2023 Women’s World Cup is in full swing, and these daily files 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: Spain make a statement

AUCKLAND, New Zealand — Spain came into the game against Switzerland with a point to prove. Clearly rankled after their 4-0 loss to Japan in the group stage, they wasted little time in showing they knew what to do with the ball as Aitana Bonmati scored inside five minutes.

There was a glimmer of hope for Switzerland six minutes later as a loose back-pass from Spain defender Laia Codina skimmed past her goalkeeper Cata Coll and rolled into the net. Without an attack in the game, Switzerland had equalised.

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It was short-lived though, as Alba Redondo glanced a header into the bottom corner to restore Spain’s lead and Bonmati fired a second beyond Swiss keeper Gaëlle Thalmann. The rout was completed just before the break when Codina atoned for her earlier error and slipped a low shot home after a corner, while the game was summed up at half-time not by the 4-1 scoreline, but by Spain’s 18 shots compared to Switzerland’s 0.

With strong individual performances covering the lack of ingrained cohesion across the Spain team, the second half brought more attack vs. defence before Jenni Hermoso curled the ball around Thalmann to make it 5-1 with 20 minutes to go.

It was all too easy to find holes in the Swiss defence and it was a poor performance from a team still trying to find its feet under new coach, Inka Grings. Spain might have answered their critics with an attacking masterclass, but they will need to show consistent performances and tighten up their pliant defence if they want to go all the way. — Sophie Lawson

News of the day

  • United States women’s national team coach Vlatko Andonovski and striker Alex Morgan said on Saturday they need to be better against Sweden in the round of 16 as they put the country’s worst-ever Women’s World Cup group stage performance behind them. “It’s the knockout stage and there’s no room for mistakes, so we have to be ready to be our best in this game,” Andonovski said. And Morgan added: “We’ve broken down what went wrong. How we can fix that in possession, out of possession — how we can capitalize on the chances we have in front of goal, how we can create more chances, how I can put away the chances I’m given.”

  • Natalie Portman, Oscar-winner and co-founder of National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) team Angel City, lauded the “culture change” around the women’s game after noticing the way one of her sons viewed female football players with the same “admiration and fandom” as male players. “I was like this is culture change. This is it. If our boys look up to women like that, that’s how everything changes,” Portman said at Friday’s Angel City Equity Summit in Sydney. Portman helped form Angel City, who finished eighth in their inaugural 2022 season, but averaged a league-leading 19,105 fans per game. She added, “That’s what got me really excited. And it was really the female players being such icons and heroes. I think their leadership, on and off the field in the [2019] World Cup really was the inspiration for me and seeing, of course, my child react in that way.”

  • Although England midfielder Keira Walsh remains a doubt for Tuesday’s World Cup round-of-16 match against Nigeria, she has stepped up her recovery after participating in light training on Friday. Walsh suffered a knee injury in England’s 1-0 win over Denmark, and after initial fears that she might have damaged her ACL, her camp confirmed that was not the case. Walsh, who plays a key role in England’s midfield setup, will continue individual training. Her teammate Lucy Bronze said “Keira is irreplaceable, there isn’t anyone who can do what she does in the world. It’s not just tearing up the formation, you could see in the first two games that we needed the spruce things up a bit. It was the same against Portugal. A lot of teams have studied England, they have wanted to beat England being the European champions.”

Today in USWNT camp



Carlisle: USWNT will have to up game considerably to beat Sweden

Jeff Carlisle reacts to Sweden’s 2-0 win vs. Argentina which sets up a last-16 clash with USWNT.

Now a different kind of drama awaits, that being the knockout stages: win or go home. And there’s always the possibility that the sport’s ultimate shot of adrenaline, the penalty shootout, might make an appearance. Odds are that spot kicks will decide at least one match in this tournament, too: you’d have to go back to 2007 to find the last time a Women’s World Cup didn’t have a penalty shootout.

In a sport filled with clashes and individual battles, a penalty kick is soccer’s ultimate duel. In an age where just about every professional game can be scouted and data compiled, there aren’t many secrets in terms of a shooter’s preferences and a goalkeeper’s history in stopping penalties. So what commences instead is a “Princess Bride”-style battle of wits.

Jeff Carlisle recounts the USWNT’s rich World Cup history with penalties.

Sights and sounds



‘Believe the hype!’ – How Japan cruised into the World Cup quarterfinals

Gabriel Tan recaps Japan’s comfortable 3-1 win over Norway at the Women’s World Cup.

Miyazawa leads Japan to progress

Hinata Miyazawa scored one and made another as Japan beat Norway 3-1 at Wellington Regional Stadium to book their place in the quarterfinals. The tournament’s top scorer created the opener, which was turned into her own net by Ingrid Engen, and then put the seal on the win late on with her fifth goal of the finals. Prior to Miyazawa’s winner, Norway had equalised through a brilliant Guru Reiten header only for Japan to retake the lead through Risa Shimizu at the start of the second half.

Japan’s perfect group stage, including a brutally efficient 4-0 win over Spain, has seen them emerge as one of the favourites to win the World Cup. This victory will do little to silence the noise around them, even as coach Futoshi Ikeda tried to insist on a game-by-game mentality. They were far too good for Norway from the start, although their opening goal was fortunate, Engen deflecting Miyazawa’s cross past goalkeeper Aurora Mikalsen.

Norway levelled with their first real attack after 20 minutes. Caroline Graham Hansen carried the ball forward skilfully, feeding Vilde Boe Risa, whose cross was converted by Retien. Rather than prove a turning point, though, it just led to more Japan pressure. With the majority of the 33,042 crowd supporting Japan, the Cake Tin, as the stadium is known, erupted when an intense start to the second half deservedly led to Shimizu goal, although a deflection was needed off the unfortunate Engen once again.

Ada Hegerberg, a fitness doubt for the game, came on for the final 20 minutes as Norway pushed on with little to lose. They had bounced back from losing the opening game to hosts New Zealand to reach this stage but there was to be no comeback here. With spaces opening up, Japan took advantage, Miyazawa beating the offside trap and finishing with class to seal what was a fairly comfortable win in the end for the Nadeshiko.

Next up will be a huge clash against either Sweden or the United States. And a massive test of Japan’s ability to win this tournament. — Sam Marsden

Swiss sentiment

AUCKLAND, New Zealand — Switzerland’s Ana-Maria Crnogorčević was answering a question about what she said to her Barcelona teammates when they went to console her after the final whistle, when she spotted Irene Paredes‘ young son Mateo and broke off midsentence to run over and pick up the boy.

The 32-year-old switched from offering a hasty “sorry” in English to the clutch of journalists around her in the mixed zone to cooing at small child in her arms in Spanish and falling into conversation with his grandmother. The instant impact of Switzerland’s bruising loss and elimination for the World Cup faded into the ether as she helped her teammate’s son clean his hands off after making a mess of eating a snack.

Wearing Maria Perez‘s jersey, with the junior Paredes in her arms, the Swiss star offered a “Vamos a ir a ver a tu madre?” [Let’s go see your mother] to the nonplussed young boy as she carried him off toward the changing room to be doted over by more of his adopted aunts. — Sophie Lawson

Colombia walking the line

MELBOURNE/NAARM — With five of their players picking up yellow cards in their opening games against South Korea and Germany, Colombia entered their final group stage game with Morocco walking a tightrope. But while four of that quintet were able to escape another sanction, Manuela Vanegas‘ 51st-minute yellow in the 1-0 loss has now rendered her unavailable for Tuesday’s clash with surprise package Jamaica.

Colombia coach Nelson Abadia had spoken of the need to be cautious, but then had to fend off postmatch accusations that he and his players weren’t aware that yellow card suspensions would carry over to the knockout stages.

“I have been surprised by the headlines that insinuated I was surprised and didn’t know the rules,” he said at Las Cafeteras‘ first training session in Melbourne ahead of their meeting with the Reggae Girlz. “When all our players with bookings, the five we had, before the Morocco game, knew that the first thing we had to do was to guarantee qualification.

“Of the five, four got through the game without any problems, but one, due to a situation in the game, got a yellow. But we still have players who can come in for her.”

Indeed, despite wing-back Vanegas proving a crucial member of his squad (with her dramatic stoppage-time goal sealing the win over Germany), Abadia insisted his side had the depth to cover through players like Ana Maria Guzman or Daniela Caracas.

On the plus side, single yellow cards are canceled after the quarterfinals should they get that far. — Joey Lynch

USWNT vs. the city of Melbourne

MELBOURNE/NAARM — The USWNT didn’t plan to be in Melbourne and preparing for another meeting with familiar foes Sweden during the World Cup’s round of 16. But when you’re unable to top your group, to say nothing of coming within the width of a post of being eliminated against Portugal, that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

But perhaps this little unexpected detour and unfamiliarity is why when the USWNT social media account tweeted a picture of the team’s Friday night session at a picturesque Lakeside Stadium in Albert Park, it chose to do so with the seemingly innocuous caption of “Under the lights in Melby ��”. Big mistake.

Melburnians, who never, ever refer to the city as “Melby” — if you must shorten it, call it “Melbs” — pounced upon the post with a vengeance, delivering a healthy ratio of quote tweets and replies to vent voice their objections. It wasn’t visceral anger, the best way to describe it would be a deliberately pantomime display of faux outrage for humorous effect, but it certainly got the point across about not calling it Melbourne all the same.

“I didn’t know there was a stir caused from shortening a city’s name,” Alex Morgan laughed on Saturday. “I mean, they say brekkie [breakfast] so I thought Melby, it was just the next continuation of that. But we’ll call them whatever they want. So it’s Melbourne.”

These things happen in World Cups sometimes. A bit of confusion and rapid shifts in logistics. Those that work behind the scenes with both the teams and FIFA are always diligent in creating numerous contingency plans for what everything will look like depending on a team’s path to the final.

However, those planning out the USWNT’s new path had a further wrench thrown into the works this week when the initial venue was rendered unavailable, forcing them to relocate to Lakeside Stadium for their training session on Friday evening, the sight of the now infamous social media post. — Joey Lynch



How South Africa made history vs. Italy at the World Cup

Sam Marsden recaps South Africa’s first-ever win at a Women’s World Cup after their 3-2 victory against Italy sent them into the last 16.

Match previews for Sunday

Odds via Caesars Sportsbook.

Round of 16: Netherlands vs. South Africa (Sydney Football Stadium, Sydney; 12 p.m. local, 10 p.m. ET, 3 a.m. BST)

Odds: Netherlands -430, Draw +470, South Africa +1000

This round-of-16 tie emphasises the shock value of the World Cup. Most pre-tournament predictions had this game to be between the United States and Italy, but Netherlands topped the USWNT in Group E to book this fixture in Sydney, while South Africa produced one of the biggest surprises in Australia and New Zealand by qualifying from Group G, four years after losing all three games at France 2019.

So will the shocks continue with Banyana Banyana eliminating the highly rated Dutch? Netherlands have emerged as a strong outsider to win this World Cup and go one better than their runners-up finish four years ago, so it looks like the end of the road for South Africa.– Mark Ogden

Round of 16: Sweden vs. United States (Melbourne Rectangular Stadium, Melbourne; 7 p.m. local, 5 a.m. ET, 10 a.m. BST)

Odds: Sweden +240, Draw +210, United States +117

Imagine the Women’s World Cup having its final in the round of 16: that’s sort of what the United States vs. Sweden is. The No. 1-ranked Americans haven’t been in the best form during the group stage, but if there’s a game for them to find their footing, it’s against No. 3-ranked Sweden.

In training on Saturday, the day before the game, Sweden captain Caroline Seger did solo drills off to the side, while U.S. defender Kelley O’Hara missed it because of what team staff said was soreness. But one notable absence we are sure about is U.S. midfielder Rose Lavelle, who will miss the match because of yellow card accumulation. Lavelle is one of the USWNT’s most influential players, and her suspension puts pressure on coach Vlatko Andonovski to make an impactful adjustment after he has faced criticism for his lineups and tactical decisions throughout this tournament.

The U.S. has never failed to reach the semifinal of a Women’s World Cup, but given the team’s poor form and the other shock results of this tournament — including powerhouses Germany and Brazil failing to advance out of their groups — anything feels possible. — Caitlin Murray

Features of the day

USWNT, equal pay, and the Women’s World Cup prize money
The USWNT’s equal pay fight has been at the forefront of previous World Cups. Where do things stand and how much can the team earn if they win?

2023 Women’s World Cup Golden Boot: Who are top goal scorers?
Two players lead the race for the Golden Boot at the end of the group stage but there are plenty of others still in contention.

Will Sweden win the World Cup through set pieces?
Sweden have mastered the art of a set piece. How are they doing it, and will the USWNT be able to counter?

And, finally …

Having made history as the youngest player in the history of the Women’s World Cup, Casey Phair will take a fortnight to take stock after the most remarkable weeks of her life. Though South Korea picked up just one point from their three matches, Phair played a part in all of them and made history against Colombia when she came off the bench after 78 minutes aged 16 years and 28 days.

She started in the 1-1 draw against Germany that knocked out their opponents and nearly scored after a couple of minutes, but for Merle Frohms‘ remarkable close-range save as she pushed Phair’s shot on to the post. The teenager will now return to the family home in New Jersey filled with pride.

Looking back on her World Cup campaign, she told ESPN: “It’s definitely been very hard, like very intense. In training, I threw up a couple times just from running, but it’s just been a really great experience and I feel like I’ve gotten more mature and learned more about the game, especially being with an older group of teammates. But I think it’s been a really great experience and a very good summer.”

Not bad for a school holiday. Phair said she was nervous before kickoff as she came up against the vast experience of Marina Hegering and Kathrin Hendrich at the heart of the Germany defence.

“As the game went on, they were very, very good,” she added. “I’m not used to playing at [that level of physicality] at U17 level, but it’s something I can work on and something I’ll get used to, so another thing I can improve on.”

South Korea coach Collin Bell sees Phair and her younger teammates as the future of the team. “We have to build a new team,” he said. “We need to look at the system in Korea and make the right decisions to secure the future of South Korean football.”

Bell told Phair to “run as hard as I could” and she did that for the 86 minutes she was on the pitch. At full time a few tears fell down her cheeks.

“I was just so tired,” she said. “One of my closest teammates, this is her last World Cup and she didn’t get to play. But I think I was very proud of myself and the team for finally like showing who we are as a country and a team and for pushing through.” — Tom Hamilton


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