Spain brush Zambia aside and reach knockout stages

Spain have qualified for the Round of 16 at the 2023 Women’s World Cup with a game to spare after a 5-0 win over Zambia at Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand, on what was a memorable night for Jennifer Hermoso.

The Spanish camp and their supporters were buoyed by the return of Alexia Putellas to the starting line-up; the two-time Ballon d’Or Féminin winner had sat out Spain’s opener against Costa Rica last week.

The return of their biggest star was perhaps what gave Spain the confidence to start brightly and it took just under 10 minutes for the deadlock to be broken. After intricate passing on the left wing, Hermoso – on the occasion of her 100th cap – played the ball infield to Teresa Abelleira who unleashed a stunning effort into the top corner from 25 yards. The goalkeeper had no chance of saving what is possibly the goal of the tournament so far.

Not to be outdone on her big night, Hermoso added her name to the score sheet just three minutes later; Putellas was already proving too strong for Zambia to handle, her floated cross to the back post was headed in by Hermoso from three yards out.

It looked like the floodgates were going to open, but Zambia weathered the Spanish storm up to half-time, and the Copper Queens had a few half chances of their own, with Barbra Banda looking dangerous with the ball at her feet. The break saw Jorge Vilda withdraw Putellas, so as not to overexert her with bigger tests to come.

In the second half, Zambia’s third choice goalkeeper Eunice Sakala was forced into saves from Aitana Bonmatí and Hermoso’s efforts, but she could not do anything about Spain’s third; a ball played over the top was picked up Alba Redondo, who kept her composure to round Sakala and slot the ball into an empty net.

Just two minutes later, Spain added a fourth. A low cross from the right was turned onto the post by Irene Guerrero and the ball ricocheted into the path of Hermoso who fired home her 50th international goal, the perfect way to mark her century of caps.

The fifth came five minutes before the end; a VAR check was needed to confirm that Redondo had stayed onside as she collected Eva Navarro’s cross and finished past Sakala. The ‘keeper had the final say, denying Redondo her hat-trick with a terrific save deep into added time.

Having beaten Costa Rica 3-0 in their first, Spain are on six points in Group C, alongside Japan who thus have also made it to the knockout stages. Spain meet Japan in Wellington on Monday (31st July) to decide who will top the group and play the runner-up in Group D (Denmark, England, China or Haiti) in the next round.

With back-to-back 5-0 losses to their name, Zambia, the lowest ranked side in the competition, have been eliminated.

Anthony Tomas | GSFN

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