Women's World Cup Group C preview: Spain's Putellas brings star quality

Women's World Cup Group C preview: Spain's Putellas brings star quality
Alexia Putellas controls the ball during a friendly game between Denmark and Spain
Alexia Putellas controls the ball during a friendly game between Denmark and Spain
The FIFA Women's World Cup in Australia and New Zealand kicks off on July 20th - here's a closer look at the teams participating in Group C.
Costa Rica, Japan, Spain and Zambia make up Group C

SPAIN (FIFA ranking 6)

Coach: Jorge Vilda (ESP)

Star player: Alexia Putellas (Barcelona)

Best World Cup performance: Last 16 (2019)

Spain's preparations were thrown into turmoil last year when 15 players declared themselves unavailable "until situations that affect our emotional and personal state" were resolved.

The players were unhappy with several issues, including the leadership of coach Jorge Vilda. The Spanish federation nevertheless backed him to lead the team into the World Cup.

Three of the 15 were named in the squad for Australia and New Zealand after agreements with the federation were reached on some points, but that means Spain are missing key players.

Twice Ballon d'Or winner Alexia Putellas was included after returning from injury.

Despite the disruption Spain have been mostly winning since the protest began, their only defeat coming against co-hosts Australia.

Vilda's side remain a serious contender in spite of the off-field troubles.

Spain head into the World Cup on the back of behind-the-scenes turmoil

COSTA RICA (FIFA ranking 36)

Coach: Amelia Valverde (CRC)

Star player: Raquel Rodriguez (Portland Thorns, USA)

Best World Cup performance: Group stage (2015)

Costa Rica made an impact in their only previous World Cup appearance, in 2015, exiting at the group stage after conceding a late goal against Brazil in their final game.

That came after impressive draws against Spain and South Korea that belied their status as tournament minnows.

'Las Ticas' have struggled, though, for results going into this year's tournament, losing five matches in a row before defeating fellow qualifiers Haiti 2-0.

Costa Rican great Shirley Cruz was a controversial omission from the squad in what was to have been her swan song.

But they can still call on the goalscoring midfielder Raquel Rodriguez and Priscila Chinchilla, who plays for Scottish champions Glasgow City.

Costa Rica have qualified for the World Cup for just the second time

ZAMBIA (FIFA ranking 77)

Coach: Bruce Mwape (ZAM)

Star player: Barbra Banda (Shanghai Shengli, CHN)

Best World Cup performance: First appearance

Zambia was one of the first African countries to field a women's team in the 1980s and they are now reaping the reward after qualifying for their first World Cup.

The Copper Queens are enjoying an unprecedented wave of success after also appearing at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, where they claimed a draw with China and lost to Brazil by a single goal.

But an Olympic-record 10-3 thrashing by the Netherlands exposed Zambia's lack of experience at the top level and they go into the World Cup as the tournament's lowest-ranked team.

That said, they stunned Germany - one of the World Cup favourites - 3-2 away in a friendly last week with skipper Barbra Banda scoring twice.

The forward, who hit back-to-back hat-tricks at the Tokyo Olympics, has been cleared to play after missing last year's Women's Africa Cup of Nations because she had excessive natural testosterone levels.

Zambia will be participating at their first World Cup

JAPAN (FIFA ranking 11)

Coach: Futoshi Ikeda (JPN)

Star player: Yui Hasegawa (Manchester City)

Best World Cup performance: Winners (2011)

Japan have fallen behind the top teams since winning the World Cup in 2011 but they remain dangerous and will be looking to re-establish their credentials in Australia and New Zealand.

More Japanese players now ply their trade overseas and Manchester City's Yui Hasegawa and Angel City's Jun Endo are among those bringing a new dimension to the national team.

Defender Saki Kumagai, who scored the penalty that won Japan the title in 2011, is the only World Cup winner still around, with Tottenham forward Mana Iwabuchi a surprise omission from the squad.

Recent results have been up and down and wins over the world's top sides have been scarce.

But Japan still have plenty of pedigree and coach Futoshi Ikeda knows his players well after previously taking charge of national youth sides.

Japan won the World Cup in 2011


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