Rampant title contenders Spain and former champions Japan became the first teams to reach the Women’s World Cup last 16 on Wednesday as both won with ease.
Two-times Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas started for Spain following her serious knee injury and played her part in a 5-0 demolition of Zambia.
Japan had been on the brink of reaching the knockout rounds following their 2-0 win over Costa Rica earlier in the day and the Spain result sent both of them sailing through.
Japan and Spain meet on Monday to decide who wins Group C, and with it a theoretically easier draw. Both have a perfect six points from two games and are yet to concede a goal.
Costa Rica and Zambia play the same day in the fight to avoid finishing bottom of the pile.
Barcelona’s Putellas came off at half-time at Eden Park in Auckland but Zambia were already dead and buried by then with Spain two goals in front against the lowest-ranked team in Australia and New Zealand.
Teresa Abelleira put Spain, 3-0 winners over Costa Rica in their World Cup opener, ahead after nine minutes with one of the best goals of the tournament yet.
After a neat interchange, the ball came to her on the edge of the box and she slammed it into the top corner in front of just over 20,000 spectators.
Jennifer Hermoso made it 2-0 four minutes later and Spain coach Jorge Vilda rang the changes at the break with an eye on the Japan clash and the last 16.
Hermoso scored again in the second half and substitute Alba Redondo also got a brace as Spain added gloss to the scoreline.
The 2011 champions Japan similarly beat an error-prone Costa Rica comfortably in front of 6,992 spectators in Dunedin, the smallest crowd at the tournament yet.
Japan, who began their campaign by thrashing Zambia 5-0, were never in trouble against an outclassed Costa Rica at the nearly 30,000-capacity Dunedin Stadium, where there were rows of empty seats.
The game was effectively killed off in the space of three first-half minutes with goals from Hikaru Naomoto and 19-year-old Aoba Fujino.
In the last match of the day, in Perth, Olympic champions Canada face World Cup debutants Ireland.
The 40-year-old Christine Sinclair will become the first man or woman to score at six World Cups if she gets on the scoresheet.
– US-Netherlands rematch –
Thursday’s action is headlined by a heavyweight clash between the United States and the Netherlands in Wellington.
Both teams will expect to get out of Group E, so bragging rights and group supremacy are at stake in a re-run of the 2019 final.
On that occasion the Americans won 2-0 and are now pursuing a third World Cup title in a row, something that has never been done.
The Netherlands are not quite the force they were, having lost Sarina Wiegman as coach and missing star striker Vivianne Miedema, who is recovering from a serious knee injury.
But current coach Andries Jonker believes the rest of the world, the Dutch included, are closing in on the United States.
“This is the development of women’s football,” he said.
“Are we getting closer? The feeling is yes. Tomorrow is the first time we can check if we are closer or not.”
Also on Thursday, co-hosts Australia play Nigeria and must do so with only one recognised striker after Manchester City’s Mary Fowler was ruled out of the match with concussion.
The Matildas were already missing captain and talismanic striker Sam Kerr, who was ruled out of at least the first two matches of the tournament with a calf injury.
Arsenal’s Caitlin Foord is now Australia’s only recognised fit striker.