Japan rampant in World Cup opener; wins for England, Denmark, USA

Mina Tanaka of Japan shoots at goal during their FIFA Women's World Cup group match between Zambia. Photo: Photosport

Former champions Japan romped to a 5-0 win over Zambia in their Women’s World Cup opener at Waikato Stadium on Saturday, outclassing the debutant Africans with a slick display of pass-and-move football.

Hinata Miyazawa scored twice and fellow forward Mina Tanaka found the net in the second half after having two earlier efforts called back for offside by VAR.

Winger Jun Endo added the fourth in the 71st minute and substitute Riko Ueki got the fifth from a penalty in stoppage time after Zambia goalkeeper Catherine Musonda had been dismissed for two yellow cards.

Japan join Spain, who beat Costa Rica 3-0 in Wellington on Friday, at the top of Group C ahead of their second match of the tournament against the Central Americans in Dunedin on Wednesday.

“Five-nil is good but getting the three points for the win was really satisfying,” said Japan coach Futoshi Ikeda.

“Many of our squad were inspired by the 2011 Nadeshiko team when they were growing [up]. We would like to take up the challenge again, to be the champions.”

Winners of the 2011 World Cup and runners-up in 2015, Japan lined up in an attacking 3-5-1 formation and looked like a team on a mission from the start.

They had already drawn two fines saves from Musonda, hit the post, and had a Tanaka goal ruled out before Miyazawa struck for the first time in the 43rd minute.

Playmaker Yui Hasegawa sent Aoba Fujino racing down the right flank and the winger curled a beautiful cross into the box which Miyazawa lashed into the net.

Tanaka had another goal chalked off for offside in the 49th minute and VAR also called back a penalty awarded to Japan a couple of minutes later.

Thai-born striker Tanaka finally got a goal that counted in the 55th minute, sliding Endo’s cross from the left into the right corner of the net.

Tanaka also got the assist on Miyazawa’s second goal in the 62nd minute, pulling the ball back from the byline to allow her team mate the simplest of finishes.

The Nadeshiko were finding space behind the Zambian defence almost at will in the last 20 minutes and a Hasegawa pass found Endo all on her own with only Musonda to beat for the fourth goal 19 minutes from time.

Zambia captain Barbra Banda, who scored the winner when they beat twice World Cup winners Germany two weeks ago, struck an isolated figure up front and the Africans did not register a single shot at goal.

“We have not played well this evening,” Zambia coach Bruce Mwape told reporters.

“It’s not the end of the world, I’m sure we can still come back and fight for a qualification spot.”

England beat Haiti

England’s Georgia Stanway made sure her retaken penalty counted to give the Lionesses a 1-0 victory over debutants Haiti in a dramatic opener for both teams in Brisbane.

Stanway stepped up to the penalty spot twice after Haiti goalkeeper Kerly Theus moved off her line early in saving the Bayern Munich midfielder’s first attempt, awarded after a handball.

Stanway shrugged off the miss, tucking her second into the far corner to the delight of the largely pro-England crowd – and coach Sarina Wiegman, who pumped a fist in celebration. All eight World Cup games so far have featured penalties.

Wiegman’s Lionesses are ranked fourth – 49 spots above fledgling Haiti – and are considered among the World Cup favourites as the reigning European champions.

England almost had a penalty earlier in the game, when Chloe Kelly was taken down in the box by Dayana Pierre-Louis, TV cameras showing what looked like a raking stud mark down her shin. VAR, however, spotted Alessia Russo clipping an opponent in the build-up.

Stanway’s penalty ended a streak of England misses from the spot at World Cups, including two from Nikita Parris and one from Steph Houghton at the 2019 tournament, where the Lionesses finished fourth. England’s best result in five previous appearances in the global showcase was bronze in 2015.

England had numerous excellent scoring chances including Lauren Hemp’s header late in the first half that sailed just wide of the post.

England dominated the second half, but were either thwarted by the five-foot-four Theus – who leapt high to tip a Russo header over the bar – or their own profligacy, such as captain Millie Bright’s first-touch shot she sent sailing well over the bar.

However, it was goalkeeper Mary Earps who ensured the win when she made a superb late save, stretching to get a toe on a shot by Roseline Eloissaint that had the Haitians in the crowd of 44,369 gasping.

“They challenged us, very dangerous on the counter-attack so that’s something we’ll work on in training this week. We knew they were going to be dangerous. Mary came up with a big save and everybody played their part,” Stanway told ITV.

Denmark beat China

Substitute Amalie Vangsgaard headed home a last-minute goal to give Denmark a winning start to their first Women’s World Cup campaign since 2007 with a 1-0 victory against China in Perth.

The Paris St Germain forward, who was brought on five minutes earlier, found the back of the net with a long-range header from a Pernille Harder corner to break the deadlock in the 90th minute.

Harder, playing her first World Cup, was a prominent forward presence for the Danes, who controlled possession but found it difficult to carve out clear chances.

The first genuine scoring opportunity from either side in a scrappy contest came in the 52nd minute when Denmark’s Josefine Hasbo failed to keep a header down in front of an open goal, giving China an almighty reprieve.

The reigning Asian champions played with a greater sense of urgency after bringing forward Wang Shuang on but came close to conceding an own goal in the 76th minute when a clearing header from skipper Wang Shanshan whistled past the post.

USA beat Vietnam

United States head coach Vlatko Andonovski was rewarded for his faith in the next generation, as young talent shone in a 3-0 win over Vietnam at Auckland’s Eden Park.

While one might have expected to see the four-times champions lean on a reliable set of starters, Andonovski instead tossed onto the pitch a starting eleven who had never played together, outside of practice.

Their performance did not leave much room for complaint, save for a handful of squandered chances at the net, as 22-year-old Sophia Smith recorded a first-half brace in her World Cup debut for the four-times champions.

“They’ve never been on the field together in a game scenario for one minute and to see some of the connections and some of the some of the combinations that they were able to do was very positive,” Andonovski told reporters.

United States forward Megan Rapinoe in action against Vietnam during ­the FIFA World Cup match at Eden Park.

United States forward Megan Rapinoe in action against Vietnam during ­the FIFA World Cup match at Eden Park. Photo: Photosport

Smith also helped the Americans to a third goal with a superb assist in the 77th minute to co-captain Lindsey Horan, who knocked it into the net.

Midfielder Savannah DeMelo, meanwhile, showed poise in her first international start, and 23-year-old defender Naomi Girma “looked like she has three world cups behind her,” Andonovski said.

“I don’t want to say ‘relief’ or ‘surprise’,” said Andonovski. “I wholeheartedly (believed) that these players are capable of doing what they did.”

Andonovski, who also put 18-year-old Alyssa Thompson on as a late substitute, said that the playing time will pay major dividends as the tournament progresses.

“I do also believe that going into game two, they will go a little more encouraged, less nerves, no stress,” said Andonovski.

Source: RNZ