2023 Women’s World Cup Preview: Group C Guide

2023 Women’s World Cup Preview: Group C Guide article feature image

Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty. Pictured: Alexis Putellas.

The 2023 Women's World Cup in Australia and New Zealand is set to get underway, and our soccer experts are here to provide you with a full preview.

Read on for analysis of Group C in the tournament, featuring Costa Rica, Japan, Spain and Zambia.

Costa Rica

Costa Rica are a team that lacks a lot of talent to make some noise in this group, but given their style of play, they’re going to down swinging.

The roster consists of 19 of their 30 players playing domestically in Costa Rica and another large number playing Mexico. The only two players that are playing in one of the top eight leagues in women’s football are Raquel Rodriguez, who has played the last few years for one of the best NWSL teams in the Portland Thorns, and Melissa Herrera, who plays for Bordeaux in France.

When you look at their results in the lead up to the World Cup, it’s tough to see how they’re going to compete in such a difficult group. Their last three friendlies have all been losses to Nigeria, Poland and Scotland, and they've only managed to score once in those three matches.

The problems that exist for Costa Rica are in their attack. They rank very low among the World Cup teams in shots, final third entries and box entries, but they own a very high xG per shot. They did create 3 total xG in those matches, but having a very high xG per shot tells me that although they’re not getting too many opportunities in transition, when they do get them, they are taking advantage of those counterattacks.

Out of possession, Costa Rica like to make things uncomfortable for their opponents. They’re in the 84th percentile among World Cup teams in PPDA and have the highest interceptions per 90 minutes of anyone in this World Cup field. They usually set up in a 3-5-2, which becomes a 5-3-2 out of possession and the front forwards and wingbacks press very high up the pitch to try and disrupt the opponent's build up play.

That is a dangerous game to play with Japan and Spain in their group, so Costa Rica’s chances of getting out of this group are incredibly slim.

The must-have app for Soccer bettors

The best soccer betting scoreboard

Free picks from proven pros

Live win probabilities for your bets


Japan are a really interesting team coming into this World Cup. They’ve been the best team in Asia for a long time, but teams like China and Australia are now starting to pass them, especially considering they were bounced by China in the AFC Cup semis in 2022.

However, Japan have a well versed attacking side that can play a blend of a couple of different styles given the opponent they’re facing. They stick with a 5-4-1 formation with the fullbacks pushing high up the pitch to create a good build up shape that give them passing options through the middle and out wide. They can also use a tika taka style with short passing to play through a team's pressure, but they can also be very direct in playing long balls over the top to evade pressure.

Japan’s off-ball movement is incredible to be able to get those passing options. They have fantastic midfielders in Manchester City’s Yui Hasegawa, who had one of the highest pass completion rates in the WSL this season and Liverpool’s Fūka Nagano.

The problem is that Japan doesn’t possess the attacking talent to challenge a lot of the top teams in the world. This was very evident in the SheBelievesCup, when against Brazil and the United States they failed to find the back of the net and also failed to create more than 1 xG in both of those matches. They did beat Canada 3-0 and created 1.8 xG in their final match of that tournament, but challenging a team the caliber of Spain and then if they finish second in this group they most likely will face Norway.

Out of possession, like the Japanese men's team, the women press with crazy intensity, ranking near the top of this World Cup field in PPDA. However, they are not what I would call an “all-out” pressing team. They typically like to allow teams to have possession and then set pressing traps to win the ball off them and look to play on the counter. They are not a very physical team, so they do tend to rely on this organized pressing because they don’t have a lot of ball winning.

Even when they win the ball pack from their pressing, they aren’t immediately a quick strike counterattacking style team. If they’re playing a low block team or a team they know they can control a lot of possession against, they will often times try to slowly build up after winning the ball.

The path for Japan if they don’t win this group is quite difficult, so I have a hard time seeing them making a deep run in this tournament.

The betting tools used by the pros

Best bets & signals for every game

Projections from proven pros

Profitable betting system picks


Spain are going through a lot of turmoil at the moment. They lost in the knockout stage to England at the Euros and 15 of their best player voiced a lot of their frustrations with tactics and team selection to the RFEF surrounding manager Jorge Vilda. However, the RFEF has responded against the players basically saying if they don’t want to play for their country then they won’t be selected for the World Cup.

Three key players that were part of the 15 have been selected for Spain’s squad, but Patri Guijarro, and Mapi Leon, who were three key players for Barcelona winning Liga F and the Champions League, are not going to take part in the World Cup for Spain.

If this type of stuff wasn’t going on off the pitch, Spain would be one of the favorites to win the World Cup. It’s not surprising that they adapt the same principles as the men's national team, which is to be extremely possession dominant with an eye towards controlling the match.

The talent on this Spain squad is crazy good and they have Alexis Putellas, who is widley regarded as the best player in the women's game playing in the No. 10 role. She recently returned from a long ACL injury to help Barcelona win the Champions League over Wolfsburg and has won the Ballon D’Or two years in a row.

Spain do a lot of their attacking in wide areas and create a lot of their chances via crosses. It’s not surprising given how much they control possession and pin opponents into their final third for the majority of matches.

The thing with Spain is you wouldn’t know there is a mutiny going on given their results. In World Cup Qualifying they outscored their opponents 53 to 0 and since that loss to England at the Euros, they’ve won every match except for a 1-1 draw with Sweden. During that timeframe they also have a 2-0 win over the United States and a 1-0 win over the team they are facing in their group, Japan.

One worrisome aspect with Spain is their xG allowed per 90 minutes ranks in the bottom half among World Cup teams. Much like the men's team, they don’t really know how to play when they are out of possession. Even in the 1-0 against Japan as an example, Spain scored in the eighth minute and held on to win the match, but Japan created 1.6 xG and ended up outshooting Spain 11 to 6.

With all of the off-field stuff going on along with some pretty notable defensive concerns, Spain will be on the fade list given the right opponent.

BetSync with PointsBet for easy bet tracking

Automatically import all your bets

Track your bet win probability

Available in NJ, IN and CO


Zambia are a team set up perfectly to cause some problems in this group. They play a very fast and direct style of play and they are perfectly fine not having the ball. Zambia made it all the way to the Africa Cup of Nations semifinals before losing to the eventual champion South Africa, which allowed them to qualify for their first ever World Cup.

In terms of talent versus to Spain or Japan, they are not even close. Most of their players are plying domestically in Zambia, but they have two strikers in Grace Chanda and Racheal Kundananji who play for Madrid CFF. The club finished fifth in Liga F this season. Kundananji bagged 25 goals and finished second in the Golden Boot race in Spain, so even though this Zambia team may not have a lot of talent around the pitch, their striking duo can cause some problems.

For Zambia, their build up play is not necessarily long balls, but rather a lot of ball circulation and then vertical passes to eventually get the ball to their two forwards as quickly as possible. Kundananji will occasionally drop to play on the right and be more of a creator to allow Barbra Banda to be in the striking partnership with Chanda. That allows Zambia to do what they do best, which is attack down the flanks in their 4-4-2 formation. Zambia have a ton of pace and explosiveness to get at a lot of these defenses, so the best way to attack them from a betting perspective is betting them to score against both Japan and Spain.

Defensively, Zambia prefer a low block in their 4-4-2 as opposed to a mid-block and they commit a lot of players in and around the box. While they don’t press in the middle of the pitch they often send their fullbacks out wide to press to try and win the ball and get a counterattack going in the flanks.

One of the reasons why Zambia are going to be a tough out is the results they put in recent friendlies. They lost 3-2 to Ireland, but won the xG battle 2.11 to 1.53. They drew 3-3 with Switzerland, but won the xG battle 1.73 to 1.2 and then most impressive of all they beat one of the tournament favorites, Germany, 3-2 on a 102nd minute winner from Barbra Banda.

Do not write off this team. Zambia are going to be one of the more fun underdog teams to bet in this tournament.

Group C Schedule

July 213:30 a.m. ETSpain vs. Costa Rica
July 223 a.m. ETZambia vs. Japan
July 261 a.m. ETJapan vs. Costa Rica
July 263:30 a.m. ETSpain vs. Zambia
July 313 a.m. ETJapan vs. Spain
July 313 a.m. ETCosta Rica vs. Zambia

How would you rate this article?

This site contains commercial content. We may be compensated for the links provided on this page. The content on this page is for informational purposes only. Action Network makes no representation or warranty as to the accuracy of the information given or the outcome of any game or event.