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Women’s World Cup: Spain, Switzerland open with shutout victories

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand — 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.

Switzerland 2, Philippines 0

Ramona Bachmann drilled her penalty kick into the left side of the net moments before halftime to set up Switzerland’s 2-0 win over Philippines on Friday in the Women’s World Cup opener for both teams.

Switzerland’s Seraina Piubel added a second-half goal, scoring on the rebound from a missed shot by Coumba Sow that ricocheted off Philippines goalkeeper Olivia McDaniel.

The Group A encounter was the first game inside Dunedin’s Forsyth Barr Stadium, the tournament’s only indoor venue. The crowd’s cheers echoed around the walls of the roughly half-full stadium, with an attendance of 13,711 in a venue that can fit over 30,000.

Philippines forward Katrina Guillou appeared to score a goal in the 15th minute, but it was waived off by an offside call.

Switzerland dominated offensively, outshooting the Philippines 17-3, but the Filipinas’ defense hung on. McDaniel held her own, making several key first-half saves –- only allowing Bachmann’s late penalty.

KEY MOMENT

Officials made the key penalty call against the Philippines in the waning moments of the first half, drawing a chorus of boos from Philippines fans. Switzerland’s Sow slid for the ball in the Philippines’ penalty area and, as she went down, she was kicked by Jessika Cowart.

McDaniel went the wrong way on Bachmann’s penalty.

“Actually I was really calm, to be honest,” Bachman said. “I’ve been training on it a lot. I feel quite confident in them.”

WHY IT MATTERS

With the victory, Switzerland moves into a tie for first place in Group A with New Zealand, and improved its chances of moving on to the round of 16. The Philippines played gamely in their Women’s World Cup debut but face a hard climb to get into the knock-out stage of the tournament.

IN THEIR OWN WORDS

“Together, they made it really difficult to find solutions to get in front of the goal, so, yeah, it was a tough game. We knew that we had to be patient.” Luana Bühler, Swiss defender.

“It’s just a moment in the game. There are hundreds of moments that happen in the game, and that just happened to be in the penalty box. (The Swiss) had luck in that moment. But they made their own luck with good play.” Alen Stajcic, Philippines head coach, on the penalty that led to Switzerland’s first goal.

WHAT’S NEXT

Switzerland will face Norway, coming off an upset loss to New Zealand, in Hamilton. The Philippines will face an energized New Zealand in Wellington. Both matches are Tuesday.

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