Japan on brink of last 16 after beating Costa Rica


JULY 26: Naomoto Hikaru #8 of Japan celebrates her goal during the FIFA Women's World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023 Group C match between Japan and Costa Rica at Dunedin Stadium on July 26, 2023 in Dunedin / Ōtepoti, New Zealand. 

Japan are on the verge of qualifying for the Fifa Women’s World Cup round of 16 after a routine win over Costa Rica.

Hikaru Naomoto and Aoba Fujino both scored in the space of three first-half minutes to ease the 2011 champions to three points.

Japan will be the first side to secure their place in knockout stages, if Spain earn at least a point against Zambia later.

Costa Rica will be eliminated from the World Cup if Spain avoid defeat.

Since stunning the football world by beating the United States in the 2011 final, Japan have underwhelmed on the global stage.

But following the Tokyo Olympics – where Japan were eliminated in the quarter-finals on home soil – Futoshi Ikeda was appointed manager and has put together a side which has impressed with its attacking, possession-focused football.

Japan will face much tougher tests than Costa Rica and Zambia in their opening game, and they will need to be more clinical than they were at Dunedin Stadium. However, two wins and seven goals cannot be ignored.

This game was settled by the 27th minute – first Naomoto found the far left corner with a low shot from the left of the box, before Fujino shrugged off a tackle on the right wing, cut into the box and beat keeper Daniela Solera at the near post for her first Japan goal.

It was a moment of redemption for Fujino following a bizarre incident on 15 minutes where she prevented team-mate Risa Shimizu scoring with an inadvertent sliding tackle as both went to finish a chance.

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