Japan talk up World Cup title hopes after hammering Zambia

By AFP   July 22, 2023 | 03:52 am PT
Japan talk up World Cup title hopes after hammering Zambia
Japan's forward Riko Ueki celebrates after scoring a penalty against Zambia at a 2023 Women's World Cup game on July 22, 2023. Photo by AFP
Hinata Miyazawa scored twice as former champions Japan smashed Women's World Cup newcomers Zambia 5-0 in a rampant start to their campaign on Saturday.

The free-flowing display was enough to prompt Japan coach Futoshi Ikeda to talk about his team challenging for the title in Australia and New Zealand.

Japan, who won the World Cup in 2011, were a class above the 77th-ranked Zambia, creating a slew of chances with their sharp movement and passing in a performance that will have the tournament heavyweights on alert.

Three of the goals came through sweeping upfield movements as Japan scored more than twice in a World Cup game for the first time since the triumphant tournament in Germany 12 years ago.

"We have these players who have grown up seeing Japan become world champions," he said.

"We would like to take up the challenge again to be champions."

Midfielder Miyazawa bagged her first goal midway through the first half from an Aoba Fujino assist to put Japan a goal up at the break in front of 16,111 in Hamilton.

The scoreline didn't reflect Japan's first-half dominance but they capitalized as Zambia's defensive pluck crumbled after the interval.

Mina Tanaka doubled the lead from Jun Endo's cross, bringing some relief to the forward, who found the net twice earlier in the match only to have both strikes ruled out by belated offside rulings.

Tanaka turned provider for Miyazawa's second and Endo drilled home the fourth.

Substitute Riko Ueki scored the final goal from the penalty spot after she was brought down by goalkeeper Catherine Musonda in the final minute of stoppage time.

It resulted in a second yellow card for Musonda, whose replacement Eunice Sakala made a spectacular save from the spot, but was correctly ruled to have moved too early.

Ueki made no mistake with her second attempt as Japan moved to the top of Group C with Spain, who beat Costa Rica 3-0 on Friday.

A youthful Zambian side entered the tournament with high hopes after beating Germany in their final warmup game.

However, the lowest-ranked side at the 32-team tournament didn't create a single clear chance, capping a miserable week in which key attacking midfielder Grace Chanda was ruled out of the tournament with illness.

Coach Bruce Mwape tried to remain upbeat, even with his side next facing a daunting clash with Spain on Wednesday.

"It's not the end of the world, we still have a chance, we can go back and plan for the two remaining games," he said.

"I'm sure we can still come back and fight for a position in the next round.

"We're not looking at excuses -- we have just not played well this evening."

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