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  • Writer's pictureTone Rasmussen

The One That Could Go Any Way: Group C Preview

Group C includes a former champion and debutante but don't let that fool you, this group doesn't have a definite winner. With Costa Rica, Japan, Spain, and Zambia, Group C is looking like it could go any way with the high-level skill across all four teams.


Costa Rica

Costa Rica is yet to win a game in 2023 and their last win was a 2-1 win over first-time qualifiers the Philippines in October. If you take a look at their latest results, it is clear they have a decent defense that can withstand a lot of pressure, but they are lacking in goals and attacking powers. Costa Rica kicks off the World Cup against Spain and needs to figure out how to be an attacking threat before this as they are currently averaging more goals against than they are scoring, and they are averaging less than a goal a game. Despite this only being their second World Cup they will be bringing some internationally experienced players with them. They should consider themselves lucky with the group draw and could possibly come away with some good experiences.



Player to watch:

Rocky Rodriguez

Every team has a player that has that special x-factor, Portland Thorns´ Rocky Rodriguez is that player for Costa Rica. An explosive midfield with the right instinct and a good shot can be a decisive factor in a game. Rodriguez is one of those players that you just know were meant to play on the big stage with all the attention on them. At 29 years old she has established herself as a veteran leader for both club and country. Rodriguez will be running the Costa Rican midfield with poise and her passing ability and the ability to predict the game will better Costa Rica in every aspect of their game


Rocky Rodriguez in game against Jamaica. Photo by Ely Garcia

Japan

Japan had a golden period between 2011-2015 where they won the 2011 World Cup and made it to the 2012 Olympic final and the 2015 World Cup final but after this, they have not won anything since 2019. The current Japan squad is very exciting and full of experience. The defense is especially experienced with team captain, Saki Kumagai, having over 130 caps. Kumagai leads a very good and consistent backline alongside players such as Risa Shimuzu and Shiori Miyake. Japan's midfield consists of players very well-known from the WSL and the NWSL, as well as the domestic league. With players like Mana Iwabuchi and Mana Tanaka consistently providing goals, it makes Japan an exciting team to watch throughout the tournament. They do have an advantage of being portrayed as "underdogs" and can focus on themselves and how they're not just gonna be seeing out games, but winning them.



Player to watch:

Fuka Nagano

The 2017 Asian Young Player of the Year and 2018 U-20 World Cup winner, Fuka Nagano has become a mainstay in the senior national team for Japan over the past few years. She starred for the country at the youth level, appearing in one U-20 World Cup and two U-17 World Cups. Currently with Liverpool, Nagano has played in the NWSL and Japanese league, having experienced multiple different types of club soccer. This will allow Nagano to easily adapt to different styles of play that Japan will see in their group. Nagano is a player who can create chances from the midfield, which will be a major help to this Japan team.


Fuka Nagano poses in jersey reveal for Japan for 2023 Women's World Cup. Photo courtesy of @pu_chaaaan01 /Instagram


Zambia

Zambia was among the first to qualify for the world cup and has had a lot of time to prepare. Women's football is on the rise in Zambia and they started the movement by qualifying for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Despite the results they came back with from the Olympic games, change is continuing to happen. Beating South Africa in the COSAFA Cup and placing third at the CAF African Nations Cup has put this Zambia team on the map, and they are ready to redeem themselves on the world stage. Even though they are just starting to become a professional team, the Zambian Federation backs this team wholeheartedly. They will face teams who have been around since the beginning, but the most important thing for this Zambian side is to show resilience early on. This is a team that hasn't conceded a ton of goals and is organized on defense. They will most likely have to count on scoring goals on the counter-attack when meeting more established and strong midfields. The main question within the group for Zambia is: How long can they withstand the fast-paced attack from Spain and the technically gifted players from Japan?



Player to watch:

Racheal Kundananji

Kundananji has been one of Madrid CFFs most important players this season. She is a big player on the pitch both in terms of goals and physicality. This season with Madrid CFF, Kundananji scored 25 goals in 29 appearances. A clinical striker, Kundananji will need support from her teammates but if she gets in front of the goal, other teams will need to watch out. In addition, Zambia desperately needs that up-and-coming star player to score goals in order to win games and she is building her case goal by goal.


Rachel Kundananji controls the ball. Photo courtesy of @Copper_Queens /Twitter


Spain

The Spanish team that made it to last summer's Euro quarter-final is looking a whole lot different now. A lot has happened internally for La Roja, and over 15 players resigned from the national team in September of 2022, in protest of head coach Jorge Vilda. This group included several starters, such as Aitana Bonmatí, Sandra Paños, Mapi León, and Ona Battle. Despite the behind-the-scenes chaos, the players who've been called up in their absences have not missed a beat. While there were many questions about whether or not the players who resigned would be welcomed back into the team for the World Cup, there are a lot of young players in this Spanish squad who have taken massive steps. In addition to the players who took over during the resignation period, and the players who previously resigned, this Spain squad is looking very strong. Spain is not lacking anything going forward and is still playing the fast technical football many are used to seeing from the side. Veterans Jenni Hermoso and Esther Gonzáles are both still scoring goals as usual and with the young Barcelona star, Sama Paralluelo, hammering in a hat trick in her national team debut, Spain is still a strong contender for the title. What could be their downfall is the inexperience of the team, especially in the midfield. But one major help will be that they will have captain Alexia Putellas for this year's World Cup after she missed the 2022 Women's Euros due to an ACL injury.



Player to watch:

Salma Paralluelo

Paralluelo is a young Barcelona forward, who with the resignation of 15 players in 2022 has received more playing time with the national team. Her technique and ability to drag off defenders is unique and she's only getting better. She has scored on every level from U17 to senior. At senior level, she scored a hat trick in her debut against Argentina and got herself a brace against Norway. As a former sprinter, she is bound to be fast and can fly up and down the left flank. She is expected to get some significant minutes during the group stages and will be exciting to follow in years to come.


Salma Paralluelo in a game for Spain at the U-20 World Cup. Photo courtesy of @FIFAWWC /Twitter

Group Schedule


Fri, Jul 21


Spain vs Costa Rica


⏰ 3:30 AM


🏟 Wellington Regional Stadium


📍 Wellington, NZ


📺 FS1



Sat, Jul 22


Zambia vs Japan


⏰ 3:00 AM


🏟 Waikato Stadium


📍 Hamilton, NZ


📺 FS1



Wed, Jul 26


Japan vs Costa Rica


⏰ 1:00 AM


🏟 Forsyth Barr Stadium


📍 Dunedin, NZ


📺 FS1



Wed, Jul 26


Spain vs Zambia


⏰ 3:30 AM


🏟 Eden Park


📍 Auckland, NZ


📺 FS1



Mon, Jul 31


Costa Rica vs Zambia


⏰ 3:00 AM


🏟 Waikato Stadium


📍 Hamilton, NZ


📺 FS1



Mon, Jul 31


Japan vs Spain


⏰ 3:00 AM


🏟 Wellington Regional Stadium


📍 Wellington, NZ


📺 FOX

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