Japan showed why they are serious contenders at the Women’s World Cup by hammering Spain to finish top of Group C and book a last-16 showdown with Norway.
The 2011 world champions made it look easy by scoring three times before half-time, with Hinata Miyazawa getting two to take her tally to four goals and become the tournament’s leading scorer.
The attacking midfielder put Japan ahead with a calm finish after Spain’s defence had been exposed, before Riko Ueki doubled the lead with a deflected finish which looped into the net.
Miyazawa, who scored two in Japan’s opening group game against Zambia, made it 3-0 by firing across goal and into the net in front of a crowd of 20,957.
Substitute Mina Tanaka added to Spain’s pain with a fourth goal in the 82nd minute.
Japan started the third and final group game trailing Spain on goal difference after both teams had made 100% winning starts in New Zealand.
Japan will stay in Wellington, where they will meet Norway, the 1995 world champions, on Saturday at 09:00 BST.
Group runners-up Spain head to Auckland, where they will play Switzerland at Eden Park on Saturday at 06:00.
Formidable Japan produce masterclass
Japan made five changes to the side that overcame Costa Rica in Dunedin five days earlier yet never looked back after taking control on a blustery evening in New Zealand’s capital.
After wins against Zambia, who are making their debut at this World Cup, and Costa Rica, who are ranked 36th in the world, this was the night they really showed the world they mean business.
Japan produced a powerful performance which included some exceptional finishing against a Spain side high in confidence after back-to-back wins.
Miyazawa, who also laid on the assist for Ueki’s goal, looks a real handful and will be crucial if the two-time finalists are to reach the quarter-finals for the first time since 2015.
Japan fans, who turned out in numbers in Wellington with some dressed in colourful masks and national costume, witnessed a masterclass from their team who look formidable after a third successive win in New Zealand.
Poor Spain second best
Spain were a poor second best but must put this heavy defeat behind them quickly with a match against Switzerland to come in five days.
They were one of the first teams in Europe to qualify for this tournament after an impeccable qualifying campaign when they finished eight points clear at the top of the table and did not concede a goal in eight games.
Spain had not conceded a goal in 180 minutes in New Zealand before this match but were out-fought and out-classed by a classy Japan side.
“We have not seen the best Spanish team yet and I am convinced against Switzerland the team will react,” said Spain manager Jorge Vilda.
“No-one should lose hope. This defeat hurts, the players are angry and I am convinced they will be much better in the next match.”
On a night of few positives for Vilda’s side, Alexia Putellas got another 62 minutes on the pitch.
The two-time Ballon d’Or winner is working her way back to full fitness following a serious knee injury sustained before Euro 2022 which ruled her out for almost a year.
- 2ShimizuSubstituted forMoriyaat 59′minutes
- 10NaganoSubstituted forHasegawaat 59′minutes
- 13EndoSubstituted forSugitaat 85′minutes
- 7MiyazawaSubstituted forFujinoat 45′minutes
- 9UekiSubstituted forTanakaat 68′minutes
- 1Rodríguez Rivero
- 19CarmonaBooked at 45minsSubstituted forHernándezat 45′minutesBooked at 89mins
- 3AbelleiraSubstituted forZornozaat 72′minutes
- 11PutellasSubstituted forRedondoat 62′minutes
- 18ParallueloSubstituted forGonzálezat 82′minutes
- 8Caldentey OliverSubstituted forNavarroat 62′minutes
- 22del Castillo
- 23Coll Lluch
- Katja Koroleva
Match ends, Japan 4, Spain 0.
Second Half ends, Japan 4, Spain 0.
Delay over. They are ready to continue.
Delay in match because of an injury Irene Paredes (Spain).
Attempt saved. Esther González (Spain) right footed shot from the centre of the box is saved in the bottom right corner. Assisted by Oihane Hernández with a cross.
Attempt missed. Hikaru Naomoto (Japan) right footed shot from outside the box is just a bit too high from a direct free kick.
Oihane Hernández (Spain) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Foul by Oihane Hernández (Spain).
Hikaru Naomoto (Japan) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Offside, Japan. Miyabi Moriya tries a through ball, but Aoba Fujino is caught offside.
Corner, Spain. Conceded by Moeka Minami.
Substitution, Japan. Hina Sugita replaces Jun Endo.
Alba Redondo (Spain) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Hikaru Naomoto (Japan).
Goal! Japan 4, Spain 0. Mina Tanaka (Japan) left footed shot from the centre of the box to the top left corner. Assisted by Miyabi Moriya.
Substitution, Spain. Esther González replaces Salma Paralluelo.
Foul by Rocío Gálvez (Spain).
Mina Tanaka (Japan) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Substitution, Spain. Claudia Zornoza replaces Teresa Abelleira.
Attempt missed. Teresa Abelleira (Spain) right footed shot from outside the box is too high. Assisted by Aitana Bonmatí.