Day 12 of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup opened with Japan dominating Spain while Zambia earned their first-ever World Cup win with a victory over Costa Rica. The next set of simultaneous matches concluded Group B play with Australia shutting out Canada while Nigeria played the Republic of Ireland to a scoreless draw.
Couldn’t watch and need to know what the big story is? This is what happened on the 12th day of the World Cup.
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Your bite-sized recap of Day 12 of the 2023 Women’s World Cup
Australia 4, Canada 0
The Big Story: Australia, facing elimination from their home World Cup, authored a dominating performance against Canada, winning 4-0 to book a place in the Round 16 while sending the Canadians home early. The Matildas needed a victory to assure moving on and took the lead after just nine minutes, and never looked back. Canada become the first reigning Olympic gold medalists not to reach the knockout phase of the ensuing World Cup.
The Big Moment: The first of several VAR interjections awarded Australia the opening goal after Steph Catley was originally ruled offside. Catley received a pass on the left side and cut around a stretched Canadian defense to serve a low cross into the box. Vanessa Gilles made a poor touch and the ball rolled to Hayley Raso who had enough time to take two touches and still get off a relatively uncontested shot that beat Kailen Sheridan. The goal, once it was officially awarded, put Australia on top and lifted much of the tension surrounding the match.
What it means: Following their 2nd-half collapse against Nigeria, the Matildas were facing immense pressure, needing a result to avoid the disaster of crashing out at the group stage of their home World Cup. To their credit, they played free-flowing soccer from the opening whistle and won comfortably in the end to advance as group winners.
Raso wound up with a brace, knocking in a flubbed Sheridan clearance of an Australia corner just minutes after a very narrow offside call overturned what looked like a Mary Fowler goal. Raso’s second made it 2-0 heading to halftime. Fowler would get hers early in the second when she marched into the Canada box completely unmarked and converted when what appeared to be a mistouch of Caitlin Foord’s cross. The ball rolled to the far post, made contact, and rolled across the goal line.
Australia managed to get out of the group stage without an appearance from Sam Kerr. Injured on the eve of their opener, she declared herself fit for this match but started on the bench and Tony Gustavsson never saw a need to send her in. A symbolic moment in the match was the world feed showing Kerr on the bench, in the late minutes, taking off her tape and shin guards.
As for Canada, on a night they needed only a draw to advance, they failed to bring the fight. The Olympic champions were disjointed from the start, repeatedly failed to mark Australian players in dangerous spots, and did not carry a speck of momentum from the wonderful 2nd half against Ireland that left them in a strong position heading to this match. It marks the first time Canada has not advanced out of the group since 2011. That team lost all three matches and finished dead last at the World Cup behind even Equatorial Guinea. It triggered a coaching change to John Herdman and they recovered to win a Bronze medal at the Olympics a year later. This exit figures to produce more soul-searching for a program that continues to battle its own federation for support.
– Dan Lauletta
Costa Rica 1, Zambia 3
The Big Story: Though both teams already knew they could not advance to the Round of 16 they still had the chance to make history. Zambia did just that as they scored their first-ever World Cup goal and then two more to earn their first World Cup win in the final match of their debut global finals.
The Big Moment: The Copper Queens’ first World Cup goal was a stunner from 22-year-old center back Lushomo Mweemba. The earliest goal of this tournament so far was assisted by the outswinging corner kick of Avell Chitundu and brilliantly volleyed by the young defender.
What it means: Neither of these teams are moving on past the group stage, but both have positives to take from their last game of the 2023 Women’s World Cup. Zambia started the game on the front foot and took full advantage. They were putting the Costa Rican defense under so much pressure that four players were given yellow cards in the first half for bad defensive challenges and trying to physically hold back Zambia’s attackers. Barbra Banda drew several fouls and eventually doubled Zambia’s lead with a clinical penalty conversion in the 31st minute.
From then on Costa Rica surged back. From around the 35th minute on Costa Rica had the better chances, controlled the ball more, drew more fouls, and had more set piece chances, but they could not convert in those first 45. Las Ticas came out of halftime and immediately pulled a goal back through Daphne Melissa Herrera Monge who took advantage of poor set piece defending by Zambia. Costa Rica continue to create chances. They thought they had earned a penalty but it was determined a player was offside before the foul so play was pulled back. Not long after that VAR check Las Ticas had a goal put in the back of the net taken back for offsides.
Star striker Banda turned provider for Zambia’s win-clinching goal scored by Racheal Kundananji. In the end it was the Copper Queens’ clinical finishing that made the difference as they solidifed their first FIFA World Cup win with a third goal. Of Zambia’s 15 shots, eight were on target, whereas the Las Ticas only put three of their 16 attempts on frame.
– Bella Munson
Japan 4, Spain 0
The Big Story: Japan’s compact defense and clinical finishing in fast break transition gave them a 3–0 lead in the first half and they added another one late in the second half. Spain was unable to make the necessary adjustments to get themselves back into the match.
The Big Moment: Japan quickly adjusted to the Spanish possession and Angel City FC forward Jun Endo sent a ball forward to Hinata Miyazawa in transition. Miyazawa was able to slot the ball home to start the scoring.
What it means: Spain and Japan had already clinched advancement to the knockout stage, but the winner of the match, and thus first place finisher in Group C, would get to stay in Wellington and face Norway, instead of traveling to Auckland to play against Switzerland. Both teams love possession, love building through their midfields, and are known for being technically sound on the ball—which when combined led to both teams struggling to possess in the opponent’s final third at the start of the match.
Japan allowed Spain to possess with little pressure in the Spanish half, but once they tried to make inroads toward the Japanese goal, the defense did a solid job of forcing turnovers and backpasses. The most important part of the Japanese gameplan was going to be the finishing since they were going to be mostly attacking in transition. They did not back down from that challenge. Japan was able to double their lead in the 29th minute on another fast break, and then make it three in the 40th using the same tactics.
In the second half Spain once again held possession but struggled to take advantage of their chances. This game has highlighted for Spain that their finishing needs to be cleaner against high-caliber opponents and how susceptible they are in transition. Japan has shown that they can be very dangerous both in transition and with possession, and used their lead to get some further rotation in their lineup.
– Taylor Vincent
Ireland 0, Nigeria 0
The Big Story:
The Big Moment: A header from Nigeria’s Uchenna Kanu looks destined for the back of the net, but Irish keeper Courtney Brosnan steps up and makes an incredible save to keep the game nil-nil. In a game with few actual shots on goal, this was by far the most dangerous for either side.
What it means: Two mostly evenly matched teams battle it out widely in the midfield as both sides struggled to find an advantage to lead to a goal. In the first half, Ireland looked to be the more dominant team while Nigeria played mostly as defensive disrupters. In the second half, Nigeria got their feet under them more and created more chances.
For already-eliminated Ireland, this match was solely a matter of pride, but you wouldn’t guess that watching the game. They played as hard as if they were still in contention and really gave Nigeria one of the hardest games they’ve had in the group stage. Even without winning a game, they’ve shown that they are a very hard team to break down. If they can slow the game down a bit and manage the tempo, they’re consistently dangerous. Their biggest issue is they just couldn’t string together a clinical offense. They held the majority of possession throughout the match but were too often dispossessed before they could even get a shot off.
For Nigeria, this has been a phenomenal World Cup. They’ve been battling with their federation and had a number of major upsets ahead of the tournament, including the surprise forced exclusion of assistant coach Lauren Gregg. Even if this wasn’t ultimately their best game, they did as much as necessary to secure the draw and advance out of the group stage.
Their biggest concern might be how much they struggled to get anything going in the first half. The positive side of that, however, is that they were able to turn it around in the second and play themselves back into the match. They had the most dangerous chances in the second half by far and even in the final moments were still fighting to get a winning goal. They only had one shot on goal all match, and while that does speak as much to the success of Ireland’s defending, they will need to become more clinical if they’ll continue to advance through the knockout stages.
– Bekki Morgan
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