With 3-0 win in wintry Wellington, Spain sets the standard at Women’s World Cup

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — When Alexis Putellas finally made her entry into Spain’s opener at the Women’s World Cup against Costa Rica on Friday, the match was already won.

The two-time Ballon d’Or winner waited 77 minutes to leave the bench, to enter the tournament and to provide an early answer to questions about her fitness after her long recuperation from injury.

Putellas damaged the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee just before Spain’s European Championship campaign last year, returned for the first time in April and has been played sparingly since, mostly from the bench.

Her appearance in the 3-0 win at Wellington on a night of stinging rain and cold was an affirmation of her fitness, the promise of better things to come as the tournament proceeds and the last component of a triumphant night for Spain.

“Every single moment for her really counts. She’s a really good quality player,” Spain coach Jorge Vilda said. “We’re going to do our best to help her and get the best out of her.”

Three goals in less than five minutes in the middle of a first half in which they enjoyed extraordinary dominance of possession and freedom on attack carried Spain to a 3-0 lead over Costa Rica by halftime. That lead endured for all of the second half, though Spain finished with 45 shots on goal, an extraordinary total.

Spain’s winning margin would have been much greater, but for a determined performance by Costa Rica goalkeeper Daniela Solero on her 26th birthday. Solero saved a first-half penalty and parried shot after shot to prevent Spain’s lead growing beyond already emphatic proportions.

There was still, in Spain’s win, a resounding warning to other teams. When the defending champion U.S. team starts its bid for a third straight title in its Group E opener Saturday, it will be with this performance still echoing. Spain have set a standard.

Through the first 20 minutes on Friday, Spain had 84% of possession. The Spanish attacked relentlessly and Costa Rica’s defense was pressed constantly back against their own goal, scrambling as best they could.

It seemed inevitable the resistance must break and it did, finally, in the 22nd minute but not as expected.

Aitana Bonmati cut the ball back across goal from the left and Valeria del Campo, attempting to clear, sliced the ball into her own net.

Bonmati scored herself a minute later, striking the ball hard and low from the edge of the box. Two minutes later, Esther Gonzalez was on hand to add the third. It mattered little when Jennifer Hermoso missed from the penalty spot in the 32nd, her shot saved by Solera who guessed her intention and went the right way.

“We’ve come to the World Cup with a lot of hope,” Vilda said. “We wanted to get a good and fresh start.

“I don’t think we have to look backwards. We need to look ahead. Our present was the match tonight and I think we were very satisfied with that.”

Costa Rica was better in the second half, its defense more rigid and it created opportunities of its own but always in the shadow of the constant threat Spain presented.

Bonmati was at the heart of everything, showing the form that made her MVP for Barcelona in this year’s Champions League. The Barcelona nexus within the Spanish team was visible and instrumental.

Costa Rica now will pick up the pieces, using its second half Friday as an inspiration.

“There were three different games for us,” Costa Rica coach Amelia Valverde said. “Obviously we don’t want to start by losing.”


Up next: Zambia plays Japan in the next match in Group C in Hamilton Saturday. Spain will play Zambia and Costa Rica will play Japan in their next matches on July 26.


AP Women’s World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/fifa-womens-world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright © 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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