The first game of the 2023 Women’s World Cup was an absolute showstopper! Underdogs New Zealand pulled off a monumental 1-0 win over Norway in front of a passionate home crowd at Auckland’s Eden Park.
Hannah Wilkinson blasted one past Norway’s goal just after half-time, and her team showed remarkable resolve in the face of increasing pressure as the match came to a close. VAR awarded New Zealand a penalty late on, but Ria Percival sadly missed the chance to secure the win for her side.
It was a historic moment for New Zealand football – it had never won a World Cup game before, despite five attempts in women’s tournaments and two appearances by the men. But this time, the Football Ferns’ hard work finally paid off! Over 40,000 fans erupted with delight when the final whistle blew, celebrating an incredible upset that will go down in sports history forever.
New Zealand’s tearful captain Ali Riley, after her national team’s historic first-ever FIFA Women’s World Cup win against the Netherlands, told the BBC that it was a moment of inspiration for young girls all over the world. Engulfed in emotion, Riley’s coach Jitka Klimkova extolled the victory as “well deserved”, and “means so much” to those three current players who were part of past unsuccessful World Cup squads.
This joyous celebration, however, coexisted with grief for Auckland’s grave tragedy that had unfolded just hours before her team took the pitch. Prime Minister Chris Hipkins confirmed that three people had lost their lives – including the gunman – and several others were injured during this rare multiple shooting in the heart of the city.
In light of this, Riley delivered a heartfelt address where she paid tribute to the victims and first responders, buoying her teammates to bring something positive into an otherwise sombre atmosphere: “We wanted to help bring something amazing today.” A remarkable feat that has undoubtedly sparked hope within Kiwi fans worldwide.
The Football Ferns’ superb resilience and strategy paid off in the end as they broke the deadlock against the more favored Norway. New Zealand kicked off with energy fired up by their home crowd, fiercely defending against the Gresshoppene. The stubbornness paid off well as Wilkinson managed to slice open Norway’s defense in the second half, clinically finishing a well-crafted team move to score the first goal of the game and secure the win for New Zealand.
Klimkova stated post-game that she believes it was the team’s halftime chat and consistent performance that drove them forward to victory. “We wanted to stay consistent – consistency of keeping the ball, getting to the final third, being very organized in defence,” she said. The Football Ferns’ spectacular effort won them an emphatic three points and earlier this week granted them the top spot in their group.
As the clock ticked down, New Zealand and Norway were locked in a tight battle with the game delicately balanced. With tensions at a high, the Kiwis added some wisdom to their play, electing to use their spaces more wisely and efficiently – a change that paid dividends as the hosts secured the break-through goal shortly after. Norway responded positively, creating several notable chances with Tuva Hansen’s long range effort narrowly avoiding the back of the net.
Desperate to secure victory, the home side was awarded a penalty late on but it was not taken advantage of. Despite this hiccup, New Zealand valiantly held on and when the final whistle blew the stadium erupted with joyous celebrations. The players flooded onto the field, exalting in their hard-fought win.