Japan’s surprise title charge at the Women’s World Cup gathered pace with a clinical 3-1 win over Norway to reach the last eight while Spain thrashed Switzerland 5-1 on Saturday. The 2011 champions Japan will face either holders the United States or Sweden in the quarter-finals and on this evidence they will take some stopping. They have won all four games in Australia and New Zealand — including a 4-0 thumping of Spain — scoring 14 times and conceding only once.
Hinata Miyazawa is also quickly becoming one of the breakout stars of a World Cup which has been full of shocks.
The 23-year-old got the third nine minutes from time to seal Norway’s fate in front of 33,000 in Wellington.
She is now the tournament’s top scorer.
The teams went to the break level at 1-1, but Japan turned the screw on Norway in the second period through goals by Risa Shimizu and Miyazawa.
Norway threw everything at Japan late on but goalkeeper Ayaka Yamashita stood firm and in injury time pulled off a breathtaking save from a close-range header, somehow clawing the ball back off the line.
Ominously for the rest of the teams, coach Futoshi Ikeda said Japan are becoming harder to beat as the tournament progresses.
“The team is very positive, kept up the pace and I think we have become tougher than before,” he added.
Spain crushed Switzerland to reach the quarter-finals for the first time in their history and will face the Netherlands or South Africa next.
Aitana Bonmati played a starring role with a brace and two assists in front of 43,217 fans at Eden Park in Auckland, a record crowd for a football match in New Zealand.
Coach Jorge Vilda, who made five changes to his starting line-up including dropping reigning Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas, said he had “the 23 best players in the world”.
“Aitana played very well today, she scored goals and was player of the match, but the rest of the team played very well too. We have 23 Ballons d’Or,” he said.
Barcelona’s Bonmati said the humbling by Japan in the group stage had been on their minds.
“When you lose like we did the other day it is a really big blow but to win 5-1 in a World Cup knockout tie, be through to the quarter-finals and make history, that shows we are a team,” said the midfielder.
“It was not easy after the other day but today we saw the character of the players and I hope we have a lot of days left here.”
Spain were simply a class above a Swiss side who had reached the last 16 without conceding a goal but whose exit means they have still never won a major tournament knockout game.
‘Lucky United States’
The United States, who have underwhelmed so far in their pursuit of an unprecedented third World Cup crown in a row, play Sweden on Sunday in Melbourne.
It pits the two top-ranked sides left in the tournament after world number two Germany’s shock early exit.
The top-ranked US won their last World Cup encounter 2-0 in 2019 on their way to the title, but world number three Sweden were 3-0 winners when they last met at the Tokyo Olympics.
United States coach Vlatko Andonovski admitted the underfire title-holders were lucky to still be in the tournament after some insipid displays.
They stumbled out of their group in second place with one win — against Vietnam — and nervy draws with the Netherlands and Portugal.
“The fact we are in, we are lucky, but we are moving on,” said Andonovski.
In Sunday’s other last-16 encounter, the 2019 runners-up the Netherlands must avoid becoming the latest top team to go out at the hands of a lower-ranked opponent.
South Africa, 54th in the world, beat Italy 3-2 to grab a place in the knockouts and defeating the Dutch would be another major upset.
“Look, we’ve been underestimated so many times before,” South Africa’s coach Desiree Ellis said on the eve of the game.
“I think this group has shown that nothing can stand in their way.
“This group has shown that when the chips are down, they can stand up.”
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