Slick Spain crush Swiss as Norway face Japan World Cup test

AUCKLAND (AFP): Spain crushed Switzerland 5-1 to reach the Women’s World Cup quarter-finals for the first time in their history on Saturday, with Japan and Norway doing battle to join them.

Aitana Bonmati played a starring role with a brace and two assists in front of 43,217 fans at Eden Park in Auckland, a record crowd for a football match in New Zealand.

Spain will face the Netherlands or South Africa next.

Jorge Vilda’s side were beaten 4-0 by Japan in their final game of the group stage and the coach said the defeat had “left a mark” that his team would learn from.

He was true to his word. Spain outclassed a Swiss team who had reached the last 16 without conceding a goal but have now still never won a major tournament knockout game.

Bonmati’s early opener in the last-16 tie in Auckland was cancelled out by a spectacular own goal from Laia Codina, but Alba Redondo restored Spain’s lead and Bonmati scored again to make it 3-1.

Codina then made up for her error by getting her team’s fourth before the interval, and Jennifer Hermoso made it 5-1 in the second half.

The five-star performance justified Vilda’s decision to leave Alexia Putellas out of his starting line-up.

The reigning Ballon d’Or winner is still recovering fitness following a serious knee injury and could yet play a key role later in the tournament, but only made a cameo off the bench on Saturday.

Putellas was dropped as Vilda responded to the chastening Japan defeat by making five changes to his line-up.

Later Saturday, Japan and Norway play in Wellington for the right to meet Sweden or holders the United States in the last eight.

Along with England and Sweden, Japan were the only other team to go through the group stage with a 100 percent record.

They scored 11 times in their three matches and did not concede, raising hopes at home that they could be on course to repeat their 2011 title success.

‘Don’t underestimate us’

The United States, who have underwhelmed so far in their pursuit of an unprecedented third World Cup crown in a row, play Sweden on Sunday in Melbourne.

It pits the two top-ranked sides left in the tournament after world number two Germany’s shock early exit.

Sweden and the US have met six times before at World Cups, but never in the knockout stages.

The top-ranked US won their last World Cup encounter 2-0 in 2019 on their way to the title, but world number three Sweden were 3-0 winners when they last met at the Tokyo Olympics.

“It’s not something I look at, historical facts, I’m rooted in the present,” Sweden’s coach Peter Gerhardsson said on Saturday.

“It (Olympics) was two years ago, it’s all about the physical and mental shape we are in now,” he added.

“I have great confidence in the squad. We believe in this, believe we can win.”

In Sunday’s other last-16 encounter, the 2019 runners-up the Netherlands must avoid becoming the latest top team to go out at the hands of a lower-ranked opponent.

South Africa, 54th in the world, beat Italy 3-2 to grab a place in the knockouts and defeating the Dutch would be another major upset.

“Look, we’ve been underestimated so many times before,” South Africa’s coach Desiree Ellis said on the eve of the game.

“I think this group has shown that nothing can stand in their way.

“This group has shown that when the chips are down, they can stand up.”

“There are a lot of new players in both line-ups so history is less important.