Women’s World Cup Daily: Spain dominate Zambia to go through

The 2023 Women’s World Cup is in full swing, and these daily files will give you the latest reporting from around the tournament as well as betting lines, what-to-watch-for information and best reads. Check in with ESPN throughout the tournament as we bring you the latest from Australia and New Zealand.

PERTH, Australia — An early moment of magic and an inspired performance from Republic of Ireland captain Katie McCabe wasn’t enough to earn her nation’s first point at a Women’s World Cup, as Olympic champions Canada proved too strong for the tournament newcomers, winning 2-1 in an enthralling Group B contest.

Ireland nearly found an opener inside three minutes when Kyra Carusa fired in a low shot, only for Canada goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan to parry it around the post. With rain pouring down, McCabe then etched her name into Irish folklore, fizzing the ball around Sheridan’s outstretched arms and into the back of the net for one of the great women’s World Cup goals.

It was a horror start for Canada coach Beverly Priestman, who had raised eyebrows by dropping 40-year-old record goal scorer and captain Christine Sinclair from her starting XI. It didn’t work initially, as the team lacked creativity in the final third for much of the opening half. But an own goal on the stroke of half-time seemed to fuel Canada with confidence and the second period saw a flurry of attacks, several orchestrated by Sinclair and Sophie Schmidt, who were both introduced into the game at the interval.

Adriana Leon fired Canada ahead in the 53rd minute and the lead could have been doubled on several other occasions, if not for some impressive goalkeeping from Courtney Brosnan.

The result means Ireland will exit the tournament early, while Canada can guarantee their place in the knockout stages with either a win or draw against co-hosts Australia on the final matchday. — Jake Michaels

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Jeff Carlisle reports on the USWNT’s confidence levels heading into their second Women’s World Cup group stage game.

AUCKLAND, New Zealand — Alexia Putellas started her first competitive game in 431 days as Spain hammered Zambia 5-0 at Eden Park to book their place in the round of 16, along with Japan who also won their opening two games in Group C.

Putellas, the back-to-back Ballon d’Or winner, tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her knee in preparation for last summer’s European Championship. She returned to action in April but had not started an official game for club or country since then. Her last start came in the 2022 Champions League final defeat to Lyon.

That changed in a chilly Auckland, though, as coach Jorge Vilda paired her at the tip of Spain’s midfield with Barca teammate Aitana Bonmati. It would be premature to say she looked immediately back to her old self, but her impact was instant. She was involved in the move which lead to the opener, a stunning strike from Teresa Abelleira, and then crossed delightfully for Jennifer Hermoso to head home the second. She came off at the break as part of a triple change as Spain look to manage her recovery as the tournament progresses.

Alba Redondo helped herself to a brace after the break with Hermoso also adding her second, after some VAR confusion when the referee initially announced the goal had been disallowed for offside, as she brought up 50 international goals on the night she won her 100th cap.

It takes Spain’s tally to eight scored and none conceded in two matches in New Zealand. That places them among the tournament favourites but potential rivals will be eyeing some weaknesses. They struggled to deal with the pace and strength of Barbra Banda in attack, with Zambia able to pull the La Roja backline out of position at times, even if it did not lead to their first goal at the finals as they were eliminated early.

DUNEDIN, New Zealand — It was clear in their opening 3-0 loss to Spain that this Costa Rica team are missing experience and know-how, that they can be easily got at. As they got under way against Japan, their frailties were laid bare once again and their eventual 2-0 loss was no surprise.

Even with four changes from their lineup for Saturday’s 5-0 win over Zambia, including Player of the Match Hinata Miyazawa, Japan still managed to control the tempo with ease and took the lead through a low strike from Hikaru Naomoto. One became two just a couple of minutes later when Aoba Fujino danced through the Costa Rica defence and beat Daniela Solera at her near post. Both goals were the result of poor defending rather than a spellbinding attack.

Overall, there was the sense of Japan going through the motions, of warming up before a bigger event, the players looked comfortable and rarely had to exert themselves. Barring complacency, they should be a worry for everyone else at the World Cup. — Sophie Lawson

AUCKLAND, New Zealand — Norway’s Caroline Graham Hansen apologised for her comments after Wednesday’s scoreless draw against Switzerland, saying that at the end of the day, she is just human and her emotions took over.

Graham Hansen hit out at some of the decisions made by head coach Hege Riise, including her choice to bench the 28-year-old winger.

“It’s tough, I don’t know what I can say. There’s not much I can say, I feel like I’m standing here with my hands tied,” Graham Hansen told Norwegian TV after the match.

On Thursday, Graham Hansen has again faced the media, reading a prepared statement where she apologised to “[her] teammates, coaches and my country, for taking the focus away from what actually matters.”

Speaking after Graham Hansen, Riise stated that the team accepted the apology and highlighted how everything will be handled internally following calls from part of the Norwegian press for the player to be sent home. — Sophie Lawson

MELBOURNE, Australia — Across its long history, Australian football has not done a good job of supporting and welcoming and involving Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander peoples, leading to the open letter that Indigenous Football Australia’s council sent to FIFA president Gianni Infantino, accusing organisers of committing an “egregious omission of the Indigenous football community and First Nations-led football organisations” in its legacy plan.

Squandering the legacy of trailblazers such as John Moriarty, Dr Karen Menzies and Harry Williams, decades of neglect for specific and consistent outreach programs have left the game playing catch-up when it comes to participation amongst Australia’s First Nations, lagging woefully behind other sports such as Australian Rules and Rugby League.

A FIFA spokesperson told ESPN that FIFA chief women’s football officer, Sarai Bareman, who was CC’d in on the open letter and who is New Zealand-born and who has Samoan heritage, had responded to the letter on Tuesday. FIFA will collaborate with Football Australia to provide ongoing support for Indigenous Australians in football and that specific investment to boost participation, leadership and development within the community would come.

Ultimately, though, the decades of neglect in the space and the massive deficit that it has left for First Nations people in Australian football has set the stage for the open letter. This, in a way, is reflective of the struggles that broader Australian society has faced when grappling with the legacy of colonialism, discrimination and oppression of First Nations people across its history, currently being highlighted by a debate over an upcoming referendum (which Football Australia supports) that would see Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples recognised in the Australian constitution and provide them with a permanent voice to parliament in the form of an advisory body. — Joey Lynch

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Group E: United States vs. Netherlands (Wellington Regional Stadium, Wellington; 11 a.m. local / 9 p.m. ET / 2 a.m. BST)

Odds: United States -150, Draw +250, Netherlands +420

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — If you didn’t know the two teams from the previous Women’s World Cup final were facing off in New Zealand, you might’ve been able to guess by the press corps that showed up for the pre-game press conferences.

With the Netherlands the opponent for the USWNT’s second match of the group stage on Thursday (a Wednesday night kickoff in the United States), the press room was packed to hear USWNT head coach Vlatko Andonovski and midfielder Rose Lavelle speak.

The primary topic reporters wanted to ask about? That USA-Netherlands final four years ago, in which the USWNT won 2-0 to lift the World Cup. Lavelle and Andonovski didn’t indulge such comparisons, insisting these are new teams playing in the group stage of a World Cup — hardly a rematch. But this match may very well decide the winner of Group E. With both Vietnam (No. 32) and Portugal (No. 21) ranked far lower than the USWNT (No. 1) and the Netherlands (No. 9), the expectation is that both the American and Dutch sides should be the two lower-ranked team, making this next match-up the group decider. Winning Group E should offer a far more favorable path through the tournament.

Luckily for the Americans, they’ll have Lavelle, a player who opened the tournament on limited minutes but provided a clear spark when she came on a second-half substitute in the USWNT’s 3-0 win over Vietnam. — Caitlin Murray

Group E: Portugal vs. Vietnam (FMG Stadium Waikato, Hamilton; 5.30 p.m. local / 3.30 a.m. ET / 8.30 a.m. BST)

Odds: Portugal -1200, Draw +675, Vietnam +3500

With both sides seeking their first point of the tournament, it’s Vietnam who will be coming into this clash in better spirits having shown some of their better defensive football vs. the USWNT, although their ability to counter was below what they’re capable. Conversely, Portugal’s first World Cup outing vs. Netherlands was stodgy and underwhelming, the European debutantes unable to get their own game going at all.

Again, the Golden Star Women Warriors will not be favourites in this clash but should be able to get captain Huynh Nhu more involved with coach Mai Duc Chung free to rotate and bring in midfielders Duong Thi Van and Nguyen Thi Thanh Nhã to make the Asian debutantes more dangerous going forward. For Portugal coach Francisco Neto, there is also room to change his starting XI, with Andreia Jacinto and Kika Nazareth viable options to start and add more bite in the midfield to help the team cut forward with more ease. — Sophie Lawson

Group B: Australia vs. Nigeria (Brisbane Football Stadium, Brisbane; 8 p.m. local/ 6 a.m. ET / 11 a.m. BST)

Odds: Australia -250, Draw +320, Nigeria +700

The Matildas will once again need to rejig the magnets up front when they take on Nigeria in their second group game in Brisbane. Following on from Sam Kerr’s calf injury, forward Mary Fowler and defender Aivi Luik were ruled out of this Nigeria clash the day before the game following two separate concussion incidents at training.

Both coach Tony Gustavsson and his counterpart Randy Waldrum believe the Australians have enough attacking options to cause problems but Nigeria will take plenty of heart from how Republic of Ireland were able to frustrate the co-hosts in their game. The Super Falcons will be looking to add a win to the point they secured from their draw against Canada to keep their chances of progression to the knockouts alive. — Marissa Lordanic

USWNT (-150) vs. Netherlands (+420), Draw (+250) (9 p.m. ET)

This rematch of the 2019 Women’s World Cup final, which the Americans won 2-0, portends to be another low-scoring affair. Not only is Arsenal star Vivianne Miedema — Netherlands’ all-time top goal scorer — out with an ACL injury, but Netherlands just managed to slide by Portugal 1-0 in their first Group E match despite dominating in the shots department.

The Oranje, including experienced performers like Sherida Spitse, is also exceptionally stingy defensively. Under new (and beloved) head coach Andries Jonker, they recently lost a friendly to Germany, 1-0, that could have easily ended in a draw. At their best, this Dutch squad can hang with the cream; just don’t expect fireworks in attack from either side in this particular match. Remember, the powerhouse Americans — who, while successful in securing victories, don’t have a history of steamrolling the Dutch in recent years — managed only three goals against tourney newcomers Vietnam.

For value, I favor going Under 2.5 Total Match Goals (-160) in combination with the U.S. keeping a clean sheet (+100). A narrow lane, for sure, but one that feels navigable. –Victoria Matiash

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Canada forward Christine Sinclair is on the brink of history if she scores a goal at this World Cup. But her legacy extends so far beyond her goals.

USWNT’s World Cup base camp: How champs feel at home away from home
For the first time in Women’s World Cup history, FIFA established base camps for each team. Here’s how the USWNT camp evolved and how the players are enjoying it.

Inside England’s World Cup camp: Relaxation meets motivation
England’s team base is set back from Terrigal Beach against a backdrop of waves, but it’s also full of motivational slogans and a focus on success.

It’s not often you get to witness your team scoring its very first goal in a World Cup competition. Check out the scenes from this watch party in the Philippines after Sarina Bolden etched her name into history with her first-half header to secure a historic 1-0 win over tournament co-hosts New Zealand on Tuesday.

The Philippines’ dramatic win keeps them in contention for a knockout stage spot, but will likely need to beat Norway on Sunday — as well as hope for a favorable result from the Switzerland vs. New Zealand match.

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