How will Group C play out in the 2023 Women’s World Cup?
Part 3 of a series
The eagerly anticipated start of the 2023 Women’s World Cup on July 20 will witness teams from all eight groups striving to make their presence felt in the tournament.
This intriguing group raises numerous compelling questions that will be answered when the first match between Spain and Costa Rica unfolds.
First Place: Japan
In the history of the Women’s World Cup, Japan has enjoyed considerable success, but this upcoming tournament presents an opportunity for them to exceed expectations.
Their performance in the previous edition of the tournament in 2019 was disappointing, as they were eliminated in the Round of 16 with a 2-1 defeat against eventual runners-up Netherlands. It was a forgettable campaign for Japan, scoring only three goals compared to their impressive tally of 12 in 2011 and 11 in 2015.
Despite a quarterfinal exit on home soil during the Olympics, Japan has shown promising signs of progress by reaching the semifinals of the 2022 Asian Cup, where they narrowly lost to China in a penalty shootout. Throughout the tournament, they displayed an impressive attacking prowess, netting a remarkable 18 goals while conceding just three.
Keep an eye on Maika Hamano, the 19-year-old Japanese forward who will be joining Chelsea next season. She has been shining in the Swedish league with Hammarby and is poised to make a mark this summer. Regarded as one of the most talented young strikers in world football, Hamano already made a name for herself at the Under-20 World Cup a year ago. Concluding her time at Hammarby by helping them secure their first Swedish Cup since 1995, she has been one of the most in-form strikers in Europe.
Although Mana Iwabuchi didn’t make the squad, Hamano could step up as Japan, previous World Cup winners in 2011 and finalists four years later, strive to regain their status as a formidable force at this level.
Second Place: Spain
While Spain may be seen as the frontrunners alongside Japan to progress from this group, uncertainties arise due to the ongoing discord between the national federation, head coach Jorge Vilda, and certain key players, casting doubt on their performance.
In a notable incident last year, 15 players from the national-team squad expressed their dissatisfaction with the team’s coaching structure, conveying their decision to abstain from selection until significant changes were made, encompassing prominent figures like Patri Guijarro, Sandra Panos, Mapi Leon, Claudia Pina, Aitana Bonmati and Mariona Caldentey, who are teammates at Barcelona.
While some of the 15 have since recommitted to the team and secured spots in the World Cup squad, Leon, Guijarro and Pina chose not to participate in this tournament.
Spain has never advanced to the quarter-finals in a Women’s World Cup, with this being only their third qualification for the event. Regarding other tournaments, they are coming off their third consecutive quarterfinal exit in the Euros as they are decades removed from their semifinal run in 1997.
Alexia Putellas, a back-to-back winner of the Ballon d’Or Féminin and fresh from her second Champions League triumph in three years, enters this World Cup as the standout figure in women’s football. Her return in April following a 10-month absence due to an ACL injury adds to the dramatic narrative surrounding the Barcelona midfielder, who must navigate the internal dispute involving her teammates.
While this is not her first major tournament with Spain, having competed in the previous two World Cups and Euro 2017, her current elevated status intensifies the spotlight on her.
Despite the absence of some key Barcelona players, Spain possesses significant individual talent, which should be sufficient to secure at least a spot in the knockout rounds. However, their progression in this tournament hinges on their ability to navigate the turmoil surrounding them and effectively collaborate with Vilda.
Third Place: Costa Rica
Costa Rica faces a challenging task within this group, but they can take pride in being arguably the most resilient team among the competitors.
In recent years, Costa Rica has experienced positive developments, including a notable fourth-place finish at the 2022 CONCACAF Championship. However, historically, they have struggled when facing stronger opponents.
During their inaugural World Cup appearance in 2015, Costa Rica surprised with draws against South Korea and Spain during the group stage. Their journey was halted by a narrow defeat against Brazil, denying them a spot in the second round.
The team can rely on the tenacity of midfielder Raquel Rodriguez, who holds the distinction of being their best goalscorer in the squad with 55 goals in 100 appearances. Following her, Katherine Alvarado has 21 goals in 125 caps. Although the forward position may lack depth, the team recognizes their midfield strengths and aims to showcase their true potential.
As underdogs in this group, reminiscent of their position in 2015, the element of unpredictability adds an intriguing factor to Costa Rica’s performance against Spain and Japan.
Fourth Place: Zambia
While expectations may be modest for Zambia, the national team has numerous reasons to be thrilled as they embark on their group stage matches.
Zambia’s debut in the Women’s World Cup marks a historic moment for the team. Ranked at 77th in FIFA’s rankings, their highest position to date, the African side undoubtedly carries the underdog label in Group C.
Their first taste of the global stage occurred at the Olympics in Japan two years ago. Despite conceding 10 goals in matches against the Netherlands and four goals in a draw with China, they left an strong impression on the competition.
The remarkable hat-trick scored by star striker Barbra Banda against the Dutch remains a standout moment. Banda, who plies her trade in China, is a formidable goal scorer and a genuine threat. In a recent friendly match, she netted two goals, propelling Zambia to a stunning 3-2 upset victory over Germany, ranked second in the world.
While Banda’s exceptional talent shines, Zambia’s defense is likely to face challenges against the more seasoned teams in the group. Their best opportunity lies in securing a victory against Costa Rica and aiming to force a draw against Spain or Japan.