Women’s World Cup 2023: Spain and Japan are favorites, but could there be a surprise in Group C?

World Cup
FILE – The United States players hold the trophy as they celebrate winning the Women’s World Cup final soccer match against The Netherlands at the Stade de Lyon in Decines, outside Lyon, France on July 17, 2019. More prize money than ever will be awarded at this year’s Women’s World Cup, and the players stand to get direct payments from FIFA this time. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco, File)

The 2023 Women’s World Cup kicks off next week, and there are 32 teams trying to get their hands on the trophy. The matches will be taking place in both Australia and New Zealand, with Sydney being the location of the final on August 20th.

This World Cup is the first Women’s World Cup to feature 32 teams, meaning that there will be a bunch of new teams participating.

Philly Sports Network is taking a look at every group in the tournament, as we go over the strengths, the weaknesses, and more from every team in the tournament. Today’s edition will be covering Group C, which includes Japan, Spain, Costa Rica, and Zambia.

World Cup
FILE – The United States players hold the trophy as they celebrate winning the Women’s World Cup final soccer match against The Netherlands at the Stade de Lyon in Decines, outside Lyon, France on July 17, 2019. More prize money than ever will be awarded at this year’s Women’s World Cup, and the players stand to get direct payments from FIFA this time. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco, File)

Spain: FIFA Ranking #6

Group Stage Games: 7/21 vs Costa Rica, 7/26 vs Zambia, 7/31 vs Japan

Spain is the favorite to take home the crown and win Group C, as they are the best team in the group, on paper.​​ The 2023 World Cup is the third time that Spain has qualified for the tournament, and they will be looking to get past the Round of 16 for the first time in their history.

Without a doubt, the star of this squad would be Alexia Putellas, who is also a midfielder for FC Barcelona. Putellas did not play at all this past season with Barcelona, due to an ACL injury that she suffered while training for the 2022 Euros last year. The 29-year-old just returned to action a few weeks ago with Spain during a friendly against Panama.

She will be a key factor of a Spain team who will be looking to insert themselves as one of the dominant forces of women’s football, as they look to move onto the quarterfinals of this year’s World Cup.

Spain will take on Costa Rica in their first match. This will be the tone-setting game. If they can come out and dominate a rising Costa Rica side, then things may just go smoothly. If they drop points, then things could get a bit chippy.

There have been disputes between some players and their coach, Jorge Vilda, about possible abuses. Spain’s FA has not really addressed it (shocking right…), and while the players will be looking for glory on the field, a poor start could cause a disruption in their goal. Spain will then take on debutants Zambia, a match they should win, and finish the group against Japan.

Spain-Japan is the matchup to watch in Group C. It could be the determining factor who wins the group, or possibly who just makes it to the knockout rounds. This match has the potential to be a classic, will it be Spain that comes out on top?

Japan: FIFA Ranking #11

Group Stage Games: 7/22 vs Zambia, 7/26 vs Costa Rica, 7/31 vs Spain

Japan has been one of the elite nations for women’s football, having qualified for every single World Cup that there has been. They are the last nation not named the United States of America to win the World Cup, and they will be looking to return to the promised land in this year’s edition of the World Cup.

In the 2019 World Cup, Japan finished second in the group and advanced to the knockout stages, only to lose 2-1 to the Netherlands in the Round of 16. They will be hoping to have a better performance in this World Cup and will be looking for the help of some of their star players. 

While Japan has many players who could be a key factor to help them go on a World Cup run, the one name that sticks out is Yui Hasegawa. The 26-year-old plays her club football at Manchester City in the FA Women’s Super League, and she has been important for this Japan side since making her debut.

She is extremely valuable in the Japanese attack, helping develop many chances, whether that be with her passing or her shooting. The other teams in the group will need to keep an extra eye on her throughout the group stage.

Japan opens its tournament against newcomers, Zambia. This should be a pretty easy win for Japan (hopefully the English media don’t pile on them for running up the score). Their second match against Costa Rica should be tougher, but if Japan want to assert their dominance then they will find a way to win.

Japan has fallen down the FIFA rankings, now outside the top 10. If they want to show the world that they are still a giant in the game then they will need to beat Spain in the Group stage. The question is, will they be able to do it?

World Cup
FILE – Japan’s Jun Endo (12) and Canada’s Ashley Lawrence (10) battle for the ball during a women’s soccer match at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Wednesday, July 21, 2021, in Sapporo, Japan. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo, File)

Costa Rica: FIFA Ranking #36

Group Stage Games: 7/21 vs Spain, 7/26 vs Japan, 7/31 vs Zambia

Costa Rica will be making their second appearance in the Women’s World Cup, with their first one being in 2015, where they did not qualify out of the group stage. This Costa Rican side will definitely be looking to improve from their performance in the 2015 World Cup, and if their performances in qualifiers showed anything, it showed that they will be a challenge for Japan, Spain, and Zambia.

Las Ticas won all four matches in qualifiers, scoring a total of twenty-two goals and also keeping four clean sheets in the process. They have tons of players who create an impact throughout this World Cup, but one name sticks out. 

 For the 2023 World Cup, the key player for this Costa Rica side is none other than Raquel Rodriguez. The 29-year-old has 100 caps for this Costa Rica team, and she is also the all-time leading scorer in Costa Rican history.

She provides an impact on and off the field as a leader that is so crucial for all teams to have, and that is why she is so important to this Costa Rican side. She will look to add more goals to her tally, as Las Ticas try to shock the world and make a surprise in this tournament.

Costa Rica opens their World Cup with a match against Spain. This might be the toughest game that they will play in this tournament; the hard games keep on coming in match two as they take on Japan. The goal may just be to get one or two points from these games.

In their final match, Costa Rica will play Zambia; this will be the moment that Costa Rica will need to take all three points if they want any shot of making the knockout rounds. Could we see Costa Rica shock the world?

Zambia: FIFA Ranking #77

Group Stage Games: 7/22 vs Japan, 7/26 vs Spain, 7/31 vs Costa Rica

Zambia will be making their first-ever appearance in the Women’s World Cup this year, where they were able to qualify by reaching the 2022 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations semi-finals. The team known as the Copper Queens has been a growing force throughout the last few years, and they even beat Germany 3-2 in a friendly last week.

Even though people could see them as the “weakest” team in Group C, they are not a team that should be underestimated at all. They have a good overall attack, which they could use to surprise the teams that they are going against in this World Cup. 

A key player for the Copper Queens would be Madrid CFF forward Racheal Kundananji. The 23-year-old scored 27 goals and had 3 assists in 31 matches for Madrid this past season, and will look to continue that dominance for Zambia in the World Cup.

Kundananji will be playing in Zambia’s attack with fellow Madrid teammate Grace Chanda, and also with Barbra Banda. If Zambia wants to have any chance at succeeding in their first World Cup, they will need this trio to put a decent amount of goals in the back of the net.

They will have their work cut out for them in their first match against Japan. Can Zambia open up the always-organized side and try to get at least a point? If they can’t, then they’ll need to try to stop a Spain which could be the strongest attacking force at this World Cup.

In their final game, Zambia will take on Costa Rica. Final group stage matches are always hectic when there’s the chance to make the knockout rounds. Could this be the case for these first-timers at this World Cup?

World Cup
FILE – Players of Zambia line up for a photo before a women’s soccer match against Brazil at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, July 27, 2021, in Saitama, Japan. (AP Photo/Martrin Mejia, File)

Be sure to return to Philly Sports Network for more on Women’s World Cup content

Follow our Women’s World Cup team on Twitter:

Tim Lovenguth | Regina Ham | Paul Frenzel | Jimmy King | Liam Jenkins

Mandatory Credit: AP Photo/Francisco Seco, AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo, & AP Photo/Martrin Mejia