SPORTS DESK : 1 AUGUST, 2023, 1:32 AM
Hinata Miyazawa scored twice and set up another as Japan stunned Spain 4-0 at the Women’s World Cup on Monday to set up a clash with Norway in the knockout stage.
The Japanese delivered a lesson in clinical counter-attacking and led 3-0 at half-time to issue a World Cup warning against one of the title contenders.
The 2011 champions Japan topped the group to play another former winner in Norway while Spain will face Switzerland in the last 16.
Miyazawa’s brace took her to four goals for the tournament while Riko Ueki and Mina Tanaka bagged the others for a hugely impressive Japan.
Boasting a host of European club stars, Spain dominated possession in front of a crowd of 20,957 in Wellington.
But they didn’t create a single clear chance as Japan soaked up pressure and broke with lethal effect.
It was a tactical masterclass from Japan coach Futoshi Ikeda, who set up a packed midfield, denying space and time for Barcelona stars Alexia Putellas and Aitana Bonmati.
In contrast, Japan’s three first-half attempts resulted in three blistering goals as their speedy front line took advantage of a disorganised Spanish defence missing injured captain Ivana Andres.
Their first win in five attempts over Spain was comprehensive and leaves 11th-ranked Japan now among the tournament favourites.
Their 11 goals is the most by any team while they’re one of four sides yet to concede a goal.
Miyazawa is also the tournament’s leading scorer, although she was denied a chance to add to her four goals when replaced at halftime.
With both teams having already qualified after coasting past pool opponents Zambia and Costa Rica, sixth-ranked Spain were considered the favourites.
Only needing a draw to top the pool, the Europeans were able to control the ball for long periods but they had few answers when their opponents broke with speed.
The opener came in the 12th minute when Miyazawa outpaced the defence to reach Jun Endo’s curling pass from halfway before slotting low past Misa Rodriguez.
Miyazawa turned provider in the 29th minute, driving forward before finding Ueki, whose shot took a giant deflection from Irene Paredes and snuck inside the top corner.
Another lightning quick counter gave Miyazawa space and the striker blasted powerfully past Rodriguez five minutes before the interval.
Substitute Tanaka’s sensational 82nd minute goal came after a sizzling solo run from the touchline that turned the defence inside out.
Ikeda has quality at his disposal, having made five changes to his side who beat Costa Rica, including the selection of forwards Miyazawa and Ueki over in-form pair Tanaka and Aoba Fujino. -BSS
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