The 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup kicked off in electrifying fashion as co-hosts New Zealand secured a stunning victory against Norway, marking their first-ever win on the global stage.
The remarkable match unfolded in Auckland, with the Football Ferns producing an awe-inspiring upset, led by Hannah Wilkinson’s decisive goal that sent the ecstatic crowd of 42,137 at Eden Park into a frenzy – a record attendance for a football match in New Zealand.
Prior to the game, there was a moment of silence to honour the victims of a tragic shooting incident in Auckland earlier that day, highlighting the significance of the tournament’s commencement. The atmosphere at Eden Park was electric, as New Zealand’s loyal fans eagerly awaited the team’s long-awaited moment since being named co-hosts alongside Australia.
Wilkinson’s breakthrough came in the 48th minute, sparking an outpouring of joy in the stands. The Norwegian team, the 1995 World Cup champions, attempted to equalise after Wilkinson’s goal, but Arsenal’s Frida Maanum missed a glorious opportunity by poking the ball wide.
Throughout the match, New Zealand displayed remarkable resilience and competitive spirit, going toe-to-toe with their opponents. Norway had 12 attempts on goal, including a close shot by Tuva Hansen that hit the bar, and Guro Reiten’s late attempt that unfortunately went astray. New Zealand’s goalkeeper, Aurora Mikalsen, made a crucial diving save to deny Ali Riley from doubling the lead.
The game also featured a moment of emotion, as players Ria Percival and Ali Riley, both appearing at their fifth World Cup, fought back tears during the national anthems, showcasing their deep sense of pride in representing their country on such a grand stage.
On the other hand, Norway’s performance fell short of expectations, and they now face a challenging match against Switzerland in Hamilton to avoid another early tournament exit. Despite an array of individual talents at their disposal, Norway failed to gain momentum during the match. Manager Hege Riise emphasised that the team’s under-par display could not be attributed to the earlier events in Auckland.
For New Zealand, the victory was historic, and the euphoria among fans and players alike was evident. The tournament’s opening game was a testament to the global popularity of women’s football, with FIFA predicting that the tournament will be watched by two billion people worldwide.
New Zealand’s triumph in front of a partisan home crowd set the perfect tone for what promises to be a thrilling and memorable Women’s World Cup. As the journey unfolds, fans eagerly anticipate witnessing more spectacular matches, unexpected twists, and the emergence of new footballing heroes on the grandest stage of women’s football.