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2023 Women's World Cup

Round of 16, Day 1: Spain dominates Switzerland, Japan knockout Norway

Ulrike Pedersen / SPP

The first day of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup knockout rounds started with Spain facing off against Switzerland in a very one-sided competition. Day one will finish with Japan taking on Norway.

Couldn’t watch and need to know what the big story is? This is what happened on the first day of the World Cup Round of 16.

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Spain 5, Switzerland 1

The Big Story: Spain had a decisive win against a Switzerland side whose game plan did not prepare for Spain to play Spanish possession-based soccer, and couldn’t adjust either.

The Big Moment: The gamewinning goal from Spain was another early one as Alba Redondo centrally placed a glancing header in the netting near the far post past an outstretched Gaëlle Thalmann.

What it means: The Swiss defense looked shaky from the start, with the Spanish attack looking dangerous and penetrating the box with ease <insert obligatory and overused Swiss cheese joke>. Spain got on the board early when in the 5th minute, a goal line clearance didn’t make it out of the box and Aitiana Bonmati made Switzerland pay with a left-footed shot into the lower right 90 as she fell backwards. In an impressive offensive showing, Spain ended the half with 19 shots, 6 on target, and 4 goals.

Although the offensive side of things wasn’t an issue for the Spanish, there was a pretty big defensive miscue that they’ll want to clean up in future rounds, the communication between the backline and goalkeeper. Spain started goalkeeper Cata Coll in this match for her international debut and there was a huge misplay in the 11th minute that allowed Switzerland to–temporarily–come even.

The second half started with three sub changes for Switzerland as they hoped to get back in the match but they were only able to keep Spain from adding goals until halfway through the half. All-in-all, the Swiss can’t help but leave this game disappointed that their exit from the World Cup was in a 5-1 rout where they only had two shots and barely spent any time in the Spanish half.

Spain will play in their first ever Women’s World Cup Quarterfinal on August 10 at 9pm ET against the winner of Netherlands versus South Africa.

Japan 3, Norway 1

The Big Story: Norway’s defensive mistakes helped an already strong Japanese squad advance to the Women’s World Cup Quarterfinals for the first time since 2015.

The Big Moment: In the 50th minute, with the score tied 1–1, Norway once again proved that they were going to be their own worst enemy. It was an errant backpass inside of their own box, intercepted by Risa Shimizu and easily slotted into the netting that served as the game-winning goal.

What it means: For Norway, coming into this game it was really a question of which team was going to show up. Would it be the squad from the first two group stage matches or the team that destroyed the Philippines in their final group match? Norway’s approach to Japan’s attack was to drop defensive midfielder Ingrid Engen into the backline and play a 5-4-1. Norway let Japan have possession until they were at the edge of the final third and focused on defending the box with numbers. For the most part, the tactics worked. The Norwegians kept Japan from shooting and limited them to no shots on target in the first half. Sadly, an own goal by Engen still gave Japan the lead in the 15th minute.

With the compactness of Japan’s defense and the tactical decision to play the 5-4-1, Norway needed to be extremely clinical with any chances they were given. Just five minutes after the own goal, Norway equalized with their first shot of the night. The goal came in the form of a Guro Reiten header off a Vilde Bøe Risa cross.

Coming out of the locker room, both teams continued their tactics. When Japan took the lead again, Norway didn’t have any concrete response offensively to get them back in the match. Although Norway brought some subs in during the second half, including Arsenal player of the year Frida Maanum and former Ballon d’Or winner Ada Hegerberg, they weren’t able to break through. 

In the 80th minute Hinata Miyazawa, on a fastbreak, put Japan up 3–1 to put the match out of reach for Norway. Japan will be heading to the Quarterfinals with confidence that they have trust in their process and varying tactics to come away with wins. 

Norway, now eliminated, has a lot of questions to be answered. After a lackluster Euros showing last summer, the beginning of group play in the World Cup, and the defensive miscues tonight, it feels like the team hasn’t made the expected progress. Compared to the depth of the squad on paper, Norway seems to be consistently playing under the level expected of them. One bright light in the tournament for them was forward Sophie Román Haug who stepped up in a big way with the injury to Hegerberg in group play.

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