How Japan’s domination of Spain complicates Team USA’s plans

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Hinata Miyazawa struck her third and fourth goals of the Women’s World Cup as Japan routed Spain 4-0 in Wellington, New Zealand, to finish atop Group C and send shockwaves throughout the tournament.

A close battle between the best two teams in the group was expected. A resounding beatdown by Japan against one of the main World Cup favorites was not.

Other squads, particularly the United States, would have been taking notice, and suddenly the “reward” for winning the Americans’ group is not so clear.

Heading into the event, Japan’s midfield arrived with a strong reputation. It’s frontline? Not so much, mostly on account of its main attackers playing in the domestic Japanese league rather than the NWSL or at leading European clubs.

Miyazawa, who represents Mynavi Sendai at club level, continues to prove the folly of that line of thinking and gave Spain’s backline a miserable time on the break.

Spain vs. Japan Highlights | 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup

Spain vs. Japan Highlights | 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup

On 12 minutes, Miyazawa used her express pace to run onto a superb through ball from Jun Endo, steadied herself, and slipped it the ball past Spain goalkeeper Misa Rodriguez.

Riko Ueki added a second on 29 minutes, her shot deflecting off Irene Paredes and past Rodriguez’s grasp.

Miyazawa added another before halftime and the theme in the New Zealand capital was becoming familiar; yet another breakaway, and another sublime strike.

With Japan, the 2011 champion, displaying the best form in the tournament, the knockout round bracket is shaping up as becoming decidedly top-heavy.

It was originally thought that the prize the USA or the Netherlands would receive for winning Group E (to be decided by USA/Portugal and Netherlands/Vietnam on Tuesday, both beginning at 3 a.m. ET), would be to avoid a potential quarterfinal against Spain.

That is no longer the case. The Group E winner is now on a possible collision course with world No. 6 Spain, with two of the best players in the world in Alexia Putellas and Aitana Bonmati, in the last eight. But perhaps even scarier is that the group runner-up, if it progresses through a likely Round of 16 clash with Sweden, could play Japan, which was toward the bottom of the “serious contenders” list before the games started but is now a team no one wants to face.

Spain dominated possession in on Monday, but all too frequently was unable to get the ball into really dangerous spots. Japan, on the other hand, made the most of its opportunities.

By the end, Japan head coach Futoshi Ikeda was able to enjoy the luxury of resting players before Saturday’s Round of 16 meeting with Norway (4 a.m. ET on FS1 and the FOX Sports app). Spain will take on Switzerland in Auckland a few hours earlier (1 a.m. ET on FS1 and the FOX Sports app).

The last goal of the evening came through Mina Tanaka, who never stopped running after collecting a throw-in on the right flank, ghosted past defenders and unleashed a powerful effort into the top corner.

Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. Follow him on Twitter @MRogersFOX and subscribe to the daily newsletter.

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