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Japan beats Costa Rica 2-0 to qualify for knockout stage at Women's World Cup

Hikaru Naomoto and Aoba Fujino scored two minutes apart in the first half to lead Japan to a 2-0 Women’s World Cup victory over Costa Rica on Wednesday, and the Japanese qualified for the knockout stage later when Spain beat Zambia.

Japan and Spain — 5-0 winners over Zambia — were the first teams in the tournament to move on to the round of 16. They are tied for the top spot in Group C with six points each, and seeding will be determined by the outcome of their Monday match.

Japan and Costa Rica kicked off in front of a sparse crowd of 6,992 at Dunedin Stadium, a huge differential from the record sales of over 1.5 million tickets for this year’s tournament. High fan turnout in Auckland and Sydney — there were 117,000 combined at opening night in those cities — have been partly offset by much smaller crowds in Dunedin, where attendance has dropped with each match from an initial high of 13,711.

Las Ticas kept the pressure high throughout the match, but the Japanese dominated with precision in ball handling and passes.

Mina Tanaka passed the ball to Naomoto, who dribbled past a Costa Rican defender before scoring on outstretched goalkeeper Daniela Solera in the 25th minute. Fujino then snuck the ball in on an angle into the far left corner of the net. Costa Rican defenders Maria Paula Elizondo and Mariana Benavides failed to stop Fujino from scoring.


Japan came close to scoring earlier in the match off the rebound of a save by Solera. Hinata Miyazawa collided with Japanese teammate Aoba Fujino as they both went in for the kick, causing them to miss the shot.

Costa Rican midfielder Raquel “Rocky” Rodriguez, the star of the team, didn’t come into the game until midway through the second half. She missed her team’s last match against Spain due to an undisclosed injury.

Solera went down midway through the second half after taking a shoulder to the head, but she remained in the game.


Japan has now qualified for the knockout stage for the fourth time in the nation’s history.

Japan won the tournament in 2011, beating the United States, and lost to the Americans in a rematch in 2015.

Costa Rica was eliminated from contention with its second loss of the group stage.


“There are some players who are at the World Cup for the first time, but they are so energetic and that makes me so happy. The team is working together as one unit,” Japan head coach Futoshi Ikeda.

“Honestly, it makes me a little emotional because, I don’t know, sometimes people within our own country, they’re the harshest critics for us. But to see people who come and support (us) all the way here, it means the world to us,” Rodriguez on fan support for Costa Rica.


Japan faces Spain in the New Zealand capital of Wellington in a match to decide the winner of Group C and knockout round seeding. Japan will need to win that match to capture first place in the group because Spain has the edge in goal differential.

Also on Monday, Costa Rica travels to Hamilton to play Zambia.

Editor: Story has been updated to report that Japan has advanced to the knockout stage.

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