Dominant Spain crush Costa Rica 3-0 in World Cup group opener
WELLINGTON – Spain began their Women’s World Cup campaign in scintillating fashion by not only beating Costa Rica 3-0 in their Group C opener on Friday, but also having the luxury of easing star Alexia Putellas back into full fitness.
The teams had played out a draw when they faced each other on their World Cup debuts in 2015. But Spain are now sixth in the women’s rankings and it showed in their technical and physical superiority as they scored thrice in a six-minute blitz.
“Sometimes our players missed the target, but they played really well. Obviously, we had more opportunities than we actually took advantage of... We could have been more active in certain plays,” Spain coach Jorge Vilda said.
Twice Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas, 29, was named among the substitutes, but Spain’s most-capped player was never really needed as her side dominated possession and conjured 45 shots to Costa Rica’s one.
“We are going to follow the medical team’s recommendations and they said for today that Alexia could play a little bit. Every single minute from her really counts,” Vilda said after the Barcelona midfielder played the last 12 minutes at the Wellington Regional Stadium.
In the pouring rain, Spain pegged Costa Rica back inside their own half right from kick-off. The relentless pressure finally paid off in the 21st minute, when Esther Gonzalez’s cross was turned in by Costa Rica’s Valeria del Campo.
Only two minutes later, Spain quickly regained possession and a fine cutback set up Aitana Bonmati, who smartly evaded two defenders to curl home Spain’s second.
The Barcelona midfielder had been pulling the strings in the final third for Spain despite a wall of white shirts in the box, and she deservedly earned the Player of the Match award.
“It was important to score three goals when we could. There are tight results in the World Cup. We have a very offensive team to attack open spaces, we aren’t a flat team like before,” she said.
Gonzalez scored the third from a rebound off the post, before Costa Rica goalkeeper Daniela Solera saved Jennifer Hermoso’s penalty.
“For 22 minutes we were compact but, after the own goal, the whole team lost concentration. For the second half we changed our strategy a little bit, but we didn’t have chances despite our best efforts to defend the shirt. We’re obviously not happy,” said Costa Rica coach Amelia Valverde.
Over in Group A, Switzerland made a winning start with a 2-0 victory over debutantes Philippines at Dunedin Stadium, thanks to Ramona Bachmann’s first-half penalty and a close-range effort from Seraina Piubel.
Inka Grings’ side were awarded a penalty by the VAR (video assistant referee) after midfielder Coumba Sow was caught by a stray boot from Jessika Cowart in the box late in the first half, with forward Bachmann coolly slotting the ball past goalkeeper Olivia McDaniel.
“I wasn’t that nervous, but I knew it was an important moment. I knew that it would be important for our team to get to half-time with a 1-0 (lead) so I was really focused and I obviously tried to score, but I feel quite confident in shooting penalties. So I was really calm,” Bachmann said.
The Philippines, coached by former Australian women’s coach Alen Stajcic, made history as the first team from their country – male or female – to appear at the Finals of a global football event.
“If it’s a VAR decision – from my understanding – it’s supposed to be a clear and obvious error. I didn’t see the replay,” Stajcic said of the penalty.
“There’s no doubt they are the better team, and they should be. I was really proud of the spirit that our team showed. We showed that we can be competitive. To come to this level and play against players from Europe, against a team like that is miraculous.”
In Group B’s earlier game in Melbourne, 10-woman Nigeria held Olympic champions Canada 0-0, thanks partly to goalkeeper Chiamaka Nnadozie, who saved a second-half penalty from record-breaking goalscorer Christine Sinclair. REUTERS, AFP