Photo Credit: Hannah Peters – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images

New Zealand got their 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup™ campaign off to the best possible start with a famous victory over Norway – the country’s first ever win at a senior FIFA World Cup.

Backed by a raucous crowd in Auckland, the Football Ferns had the better of an energetic and frantic first 45 minutes, as favourites Norway struggled to find a rhythm to their passing game.

Malia Steinmetz was at the heart of everything good New Zealand did, showing excellent composure on the ball and allowing the home side to build their attacks from within Norway’s half. The midfielder going closest in the early stages when her effort from distance flew over Norway goalkeeper Aurora Mikalsen’s crossbar.

Norway, quarter-finalists in 2019, had their fair share of possession as the half wore on but continually failed to carve out clear cut chances. Ada Hegerberg, one of the most high profile forwards in the competition struggled to impose herself on the New Zealand backline, with Rebekah Stott in particular dealing with the physical challenge well.

Frida Maanum was also showing her class. Her side’s best chance of the half falling to the midfielder but she snatched at her shot from just outside the box and Kiwi ‘keeper Victoria Esson was untroubled.

Hegerberg almost had a golden chance to give Norway a crucial first-half lead when she showed good movement in the box to find space following a cut-back from Caroline Graham Hansen but Stott was on hand with an outstanding block to keep the score level.

The final chance of the half fell to Wilkinson, who ran onto an excellent through ball from Jacqui Hand in the right channel but the centre forward’s effort was blocked well by Thea Bjelde.

The crowd of 42,137, who had been in good voice throughout, exploded within minutes of the restart. Jacqui Hand was found down the right-hand side by Indiah-Paige Riley and the wingers pin-point cross was slammed home by Wilkinson to give the hosts a vital lead.

The atmosphere inside Eden Park was ramped up a notch and the home side kept their foot on the pedal. Wilkinson again finding space but this time slicing her effort wide from just inside the penalty area.

A second was almost provided by Indiah-Paige Riley, who cut in from the right onto her weaker foot and curled her effort towards the far post, only to be denied by an outstanding grasping save from Mikalsen.

Norway were continuing to struggle with her their rhythm and connections across the park, with the gap between midfield and attack growing as the game went on.

At the other end, New Zealand almost put the game out of sight when Ria Percival was set up by Wilkinson after more great hold-up play, but the midfielder’s rasping effort flew just wide of the right-hand post.

Tired legs and minds ensured a more open game as the minutes ticked down and Norway began to assert some dominance for arguably the first time in the match. Defender Tuva Hansen came agonisingly close to levelling matters but her side-footed effort from the edge of the box was tipped onto the bar by Esson and the hosts survived.

There was still time for added drama when New Zealand were awarded a penalty with minutes to go following a hand-ball by Tuva Hansen just inside the area – given after a VAR check from Japanese referee Yoshimi Yamashita.

Percival took on the responsibility, only to see her effort cannon back off the crossbar to the dismay of the vast majority inside Eden Park.

With nine minutes of added time signalled, it was a nervy watch as New Zealand looked to hold on and record their first ever FIFA Women’s World Cup victory. Local hearts were almost broken at the last when a late scramble from Norway led to a chance for Guro Reiten but the midfielder couldn’t get the necessary contact and the ball squirmed wide.

The Football Ferns held strong however, to secure a opening win in Group A and create women’s footballing history on an emotional night in New Zealand.

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND – JULY 20: Jitka Klimkova, Head Coach of New Zealand, speaks to the media in the post match press conference following the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023 Group A match between New Zealand and Norway at Eden Park on July 20, 2023 in Auckland / Tāmaki Makaurau, New Zealand. (Photo by Jan Kruger – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Post-match, New Zealand Head Coach Jitka Klimkova was keen to stress the importance of enjoying the night’s victory before moving on to the next challenge in Group A against Philippines in Wellington next week.

“Let’s keep believing because we put in so much work to be ready and to be prepared during those two years that we are working together,” Klimkova said.

“For me now, let’s just celebrate this moment because New Zealand waited for this moment for such a long time. So we’ll keep enjoying the win and the solid performance and tomorrow the recovery starts.

“We will have a review of our game, our processes keep continuing, how we always do it with our team. We will review, we will say what we’ve done well and we will look for work-ons and we will brief for the next one. Our goal is going game by game, so first game is checked and the next one is in front of us,” she continued.

Philippines and Switzerland will complete the first round of Group A matches tomorrow evening when they face off in Dunedin.

New Zealand: 1 (Hannah WILKINSON 48′)
Norway: 0

HT: 1-0

Across the ditch in Sydney, New Zealand’s co-hosts Australia also got off to a winning start, overcoming a World Cup debuting Irish side 1-0 at Stadium Australia.

Steph Catley’s 52nd minute penalty was enough to secure the three points following a foul in the box on Hayley Raso. Catley’s effort was confidently tucked away into the corner past goalkeeper Courtney Brosnan.

Ireland had performed admirably in the first period, showing a determination and resolve, as they enjoyed their first ever outing at a FIFA Women’s World Cup. Australia, without the injured Sam Kerr who will miss their opening two matches of the tournament, dominated possession but couldn’t manufacture much in the way of goalscoring opportunities as the half came to a close.

Australia failed to build on their lead and were lucky to escape with the win, as Ireland took charge of the final stages, creating multiple chances but failing to find the equaliser that their enterprising play would have deserved.

The other two sides in Group B, Nigeria and Canada, meet tomorrow in Melbourne.

Australia: 1 (Steph CATLEY PEN 52′)
Republic of Ireland: 0

HT: 0-0