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Japan Blanks Costa Rica at FIFA Women's World Cup

With back-to-back FIFA Women's World Cup victories in New Zealand, Japan has secured a spot in the quadrennial tournament's round of 16.

Two goals in rapid succession in the first half lifted Nadeshiko Japan to a 2-0 victory over Costa Rica at the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup on Wednesday, July 26 in Dunedin, New Zealand.

Hikaru Naomoto booted the ball into the net in the 25th minute, and teenage teammate Aoba Fujino made it 2-0 in the 27th minute.

Manager Futoshi Ikeda's squad has outscored its first two Group C opponents 7-0 at the quadrennial tournament. 

Up next: Japan faces world No 6 Spain in the teams' final group stage match on Monday, July 31 in Wellington, starting at 4 PM JST.

With back-to-back wins in New Zealand, including a 5-0 rout of Zambia on July 22, Japan has booked a spot in the round of 16 at the 32-nation Women's World Cup.

Against Zambia and Costa Rica, who are ranked 77th and 36th, respectively in the world, Ikeda's squad outshot its opponents 26-0 and 24-6.

Japan launched 12 shots on target to Costa Rica's two. In addition, world No 11 Japan controlled possession 57% of the time.

It added up to a methodical win for Japan, which won the 2011 Women's World Cup. (Watch match highlights on the FIFA Women's World Cup website.)

FIFA Women's World Cup
Japan's Aoba Fujino scores a first-half goal against Costa Rica. (REUTERS/via KYODO)

Preparation Pays Off for Japan

Ikeda said preparation was a key for his squad against Costa Rica, which lost 3-0 to Spain on July 21.

"Although we won our first match, we knew this one would be difficult," Ikeda told a news conference. "Costa Rica [is] a team that uses various ways of playing, but we had prepared ways to handle this.

"As in the first match, our defense was well focused."

Analyzing Japan's performance, Ikeda pointed out that the team's transition from defense to offense was effective.

"I think the whole team was able to see ways to start attacks after we recovered possession," the manager told reporters. "It's our strong point that we can play in our Nadeshiko way, regardless of which players are on the pitch."

FIFA Women's World Cup
Japan's Hina Sugita moves the ball in the second half as Costa Rica's Herrera looks on. (KYODO)

Naomoto Shines in First Women's World Cup Start

Naomoto, who entered the match against Zambia as a 77th-minute substitute, capitalized on the opportunity to make her first World Cup start against Costa Rica.

Trusting her teammates to create scoring opportunities paid off for Naomoto, who rifled a low left-footed shot past Costa Rica goalkeeper Daniela Solera into the net for the match's first goal.

"I knew I would have opportunities to score when Aoba [Fujino] or Mina [Tanaka] had the ball," said Naomoto, who also plays for the WE League's Urawa Reds Ladies.

FIFA Women's World Cup
Another view of Hikaru Naomoto's first-half goal. (Molly Darlington/REUTERS)

Naomoto was an active presence on offense and worked effectively with her teammates to put pressure on Costa Rica's defense.

"I was happy because I wanted to contribute to the team's victory," said Naomoto.

"We defended well and everyone worked hard with good discipline to win the ball back and start attacks."

FIFA Women's World Cup
Nadeshiko Japan players celebrate forward Aoba Fujino's goal against Costa Rica. (AP/via KYODO)

Fujino also had success against Costa Rica, utilizing her quickness and goal-scoring instincts. And the result was a well-placed shot beyond Solera's reach.

At age 19, Fujino is Nadeshiko Japan's youngest player (and its first teenager) to score a goal in a Women's World Cup match.

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Author: Ed Odeven

Find Ed on JAPAN Forward's dedicated website, SportsLook. Follow his [Japan Sports Notebook] on Sundays, [Odds and Evens] during the week, and Twitter @ed_odeven.

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