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FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023: Japan beats Costa Rica to put one foot in last 16

Two goals in two first-half minutes gave Japan a 2-0 win over Costa Rica at Dunedin Stadium on Wednesday to all but secure the 2011 champion a spot in the knockout rounds of the Women’s World Cup.

The Nadeshiko reprised the effervescent passing game of their opening 5-0 win over Zambia and will progress to the last 16 for the fourth straight World Cup if Spain, as expected, beats the African side in Wednesday’s later Group C game in Auckland.

“We did what we needed to do, and we did it well,” said Japan coach Futoshi Ikeda.

“We’ve prioritised winning points. The players came here with a serious goal in mind and we’re all looking towards that same goal.”

Playing through Mina Tanaka in an advanced midfield role rather than playmaker Yui Hasegawa as it had against Zambia, Japan was already well in the ascendant before the double blow that knocked the stuffing out of the Central Americans.

Left winger Hikaru Naomoto struck first in the 25th minute, pouncing on a slip from Maria Paula Coto and storming into the area before stroking the ball into the net past the dive of goalkeeper Daniela Solera.

Two minutes later, teenager Aoba Fujino turned a defender on the right wing, ran directly at goal and beat Solera at her near post from a tight angle.

Costa Rica, which was beaten 3-0 by Spain in its opener, was barely able to land a blow on its opponents, and it looked from then on only a matter of many goals Japan would rack up.

Despite having 25 attempts on goal, however, Japan was unable to add to its tally – a shortcoming that might concern coach Futoshi Ikeda with tougher challenges lying ahead.

Japan faces Spain in Wellington on Monday in a match that will almost certainly decide which of the two sides tops the group, while Costa Rica will play Zambia in Hamilton at the same time as both sides continue to seek their first World Cup win.

Costa Rica coach Amelia Valverde, who blamed lapses of concentration for the two goals, was asked whether it was time to bring an end to her eight-year reign.

“I’m totally focused on having the best World Cup possible in the circumstances,” she told reporters.

“We still have a match to play and, for us, all matches are important. I don’t think this is the right time to talk about that.”

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