Spain began their Women’s World Cup campaign in scintillating fashion by beating Costa Rica 3-0 in their Group C opener on Friday thanks to an own goal and first-half strikes from Aitana Bonmati and Esther Gonzalez at Wellington Regional Stadium.
The teams had played out a draw when they faced each other on their World Cup debuts in 2015 but Spain are now sixth in the women’s rankings and it showed in their technical and physical superiority as they scored three times in a six-minute blitz.
Costa Rica goalkeeper Daniela Solera saved a first-half penalty, but Spain were never threatened at the other end and went top of their group ahead of Japan’s game against Zambia on Saturday.
“Sometimes our players missed the target but they played really well,” Spain coach Jorge Vilda told reporters. “Obviously we had more opportunities than we actually took advantage of… We could have been more active in certain plays.”
Twice Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas was named among Spain’s substitutes as she makes her way back to full fitness, but their most-capped player was not needed in the first half as Bonmati and Esther ran riot in Costa Rica’s box.
“We are going to follow the medical team’s recommendations and they said for today that Alexia could play a little bit. Every single minute from her really counts,” Vilda said after Putellas played the last 15 minutes.
In the pouring rain, Spain dominated possession and pegged Costa Rica back inside their own half right from kickoff, with Athenea del Castillo narrowly firing wide while Ivana Andres saw her header tipped over the bar.
But the relentless pressure finally paid off in the 21st minute when Gonzalez’s cross was turned in by Costa Rica’s Valeria del Campo.
Only two minutes later Spain quickly regained possession and a fine cutback set up Bonmati, who smartly evaded two defenders to curl home Spain’s second.
The Barcelona midfielder had been pulling the strings in the final third for Spain despite a wall of white shirts in the box and she deservedly earned the player of the match award.
“It was important to score three goals when we could. There are tight results in the World Cup,” she said.
“We have a very offensive team to attack open spaces, we aren’t a flat team like before.”
Costa Rica could have conceded more if not for the heroics of Solera in goal as she made timely interventions and reflex saves.
However, she could do nothing as Gonzalez scored the third from a rebound off the post.
Solera gave Costa Rica another lifeline when she saved Jennifer Hermoso’s penalty and she was in fine form in the second half too to frustrate Spain.
There were worried faces on the bench when she went down late in the second half clutching her leg following a collision with a team mate but she managed to continue after some treatment.
Costa Rica had their opportunities on the counter-attack but they were quickly snuffed out and they managed only one shot compared to Spain’s 45.
“For 22 minutes we were compact but after the own goal the whole team lost concentration,” Costa Rica coach Amelia Valverde said.
“For the second half we changed our strategy a little bit but we didn’t have chances despite our best efforts to defend the shirt. We’re obviously not happy.”