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Hermoso-inspired Spain thrash Zambia to reach knockout stages

Jennifer Hermoso celebrated her 100th Spain cap with her 49th and 50th international goals, helping her country to trash Zambia 5 - 0 and book their place in the last 16 of the Women's World Cup.

It was quick start for Spain, with Putellas and Paralluelo combining twice in the first six minutes, each coming close to the opening goal.

For all of Spain's intricate play, it was easy to forget the individual quality of some of their players. That is until Teresa Abelleira ripped a rocket into the top corner from 25 yards to break the deadlock after just nine minutes.

It took just four minutes for Spain to find a second.

Alexia Putellas, making her first start for Spain since April 2022 after recovering from an ACL injury, put a beautiful cross on a plate for Jennifer Hermoso to nod home her first of the night.

Spain were largely frustrated for the rest of the first half. Barbra Banda was a constant driving force for Zambia trying to get forward, but it was third-choice goalkeeper Eunice Sakala who stole the first-half show for Zambia, keeping the scoreline down before the break.

Sakala was a small silver lining for the African side. With their first-choice goalkeeper injured a week before the tournament began and their second-choice goalkeeper sent off in stoppage time against Japan, Sakala stepped up and made some fantastic saves to limit Spain's tally.

After the break, Zambia tried to commit more players forward to attack but just didn't have the quality to break Spain down. Eventually, Zambia gave out and Spain began pilling on the goals.

The third came 20 minutes from time. Two Spanish substitutes combined, as Eva Navarro played a glorious long ball over the top of Zambia's backline to La Liga golden boot winner Alba Redondo. She rounded the goalkeeper with impressive ease before rolling home her first goal of the tournament.

Just one minute after Zambia kicked off it was four, this time Redondo providing a cross for Irene Guerrero. The Atletico Madrid midfielder hit the post from close range but Hermoso was on hand to fire home the rebound for her second of the night.

There was a long VAR check on the goal, and the referee initially announced that the goal was ruled out before correcting herself and confirming Hermoso's 50th goal for Spain.

Spain continued to hunt for a fifth goal and with five minutes of the 90 to play they found it. Once again it was the combination of Eva Navarro and Alba Redonda which tore Zambia apart, Navarro firing in a perfect cross for Navarro who took a brilliant touch to beat her defender before lashing the ball home.

Again there was a VAR check, but once again it went Spain's way, securing an emphatic 5 - 0 win and a place alongside Japan in the knockout stages.

Both Hermoso and Redonda had chances to secure their hat-tricks before full-time, but Sakala kept her best two saves for last. Hermoso fired her shot towards the top corner, forcing a fingertip onto the crossbar, before Redonda, with the final chance of the match, had a majestic header pushed away for a corner.

Sakala's performance doesn't cushion the blow however for Zambia, who have suffered two 5 - 0 defeats to crash out of the 2023 World Cup. This is only their second major international tournament and their first World Cup and whilst they've learned plenty of lessons to improve for future tournaments, it will hurt to have been brushed aside so easily.

Crucially, Spain now go into their final game showdown with Japan one goal ahead of the former world champions; this means that a point will be enough for Spain to win Group C on goal difference.

They did suffer a late blow however with substitute Athenea Del Castillo carried off by the Spain physios, leaving her side to see out their impressive win with ten players.

But with Alexia Putellas and Jennifer Hermoso's combination play, Spain looked vicious with or without Del Castillo. It's even more impressive that they were able to bring on Navarro and Redonda who exhibited the same electrifying chemistry.

This Spain team really is one to watch in the knockout stages.

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