Co-hosts New Zealand produced a second-half footballing masterclass as they overcame a highly-rated Norway side in the tournament’s opening match to win a their first ever Women’s World Cup match in their fifth tournament.
The Norwegians had started brightly threatening a resolute New Zealand defence with several fast-paced attacks at Eden Park, Auckland, on Thursday.
However, they lacked a clinical finish, with Ada Hegerberg scuffing a bicycle kick five minutes into the match and Frida Maanum blasting the ball over the bar after a well-worked Norwegian attack.
Then the game was turned on its head in the forty-eighth minute when Jacqui Hand crossed an inch-perfect ball behind the Norwegian defensive line to Hannah Wilkinson after a lung-busting run down the right wing.
Wilkinson had enough time to turn her body towards the goal and curl the ball over Aurora Mikalsen, sending the home crowd into raptures.
From that moment on, all the momentum, and at times luck, went New Zealand’s way.
Just a few minutes later, New Zealand thought they had won a penalty after a possible handball in the Norway box, but it was ruled to have deflected up off Mathilde Harviken’s leg.
The Norwegians appeared unable to cope with the fast-paced, dynamic New Zealand attacks but will count themselves unlucky not to have pulled a goal back in the 81st minute after Tuva Hansen struck the bar with an elegant long-range lobbed strike.
The match reached a fever pitch in the final minutes after Referee Yoshimi Yamashita of Japan, with the help of VAR, deemed Hansen to have blocked CJ Bott’s shot in the box with her arm. To many people’s surprise, there was an in-stadium announcement from the referee explaining her decision over the tannoy system, a first for many seasoned football fans.
Midfielder Ria Percival stepped up to the spot and attempted an audacious penalty strike aimed at the top corner but struck the bar.
There was a nail-biting 10 additional minutes of injury time to see out for the host nation as Norway picked up steam, with the usually prolific Hegerberg uncharacteristically failing to strike the ball cleanly after the ball fell invitingly to her in the box.
At the final whistle, a packed Eden Park erupted as New Zealand’s players celebrated a historic opening day win.