Updated: Jul 25
New Zealand made history in the opening game of the 2023 Women's World Cup, beating heavy favourites Norway 1 - 0 at a sold-out Eden Park in Auckland.
Hannah Wilkinson's goal was worthy of opening the scoring at the tournament. From a goal kick, New Zealand worked a lightning-quick move, releasing Jacqui Hand on the right-hand side. She charged into the penalty area, laying a perfect ball across for Wilkinson to fire home from 5 yards out.
Before the game got underway, there was a respectfully observed period of silence for the victims of a shooting that took place in Auckland this morning, just two blocks from the Norweigan team's hotel.
Following the national anthems, the stadium was rocking with support for the home side; the sell-out crowd at Eden Park broke the attendance record for a football match in New Zealand altogether.
The hosts responded to the crowd, starting on the front foot, playing with typical host energy in a fantastic atmosphere in Auckland. Hannah Wilkinson was the pinpoint of their positive football and effective high press, causing problems for Norway right from the off.
After 20 minutes Norway started to come into the game. The former World Champions put in several crosses, many of which caused problems for New Zealand's experienced goalkeeper Victoria Esson. Arsenal's Frida Maanum had the best of the chances, firing a volley over the bar from 15 yards.
The tempo increased dramatically in the last 10 minutes of the first half. Both Ada Hegerberg and Hannah Wilkinson had promising chances in the opposition penalty areas, but were denied by stunning challenges; Rebekah Stott coming to the rescue for New Zealand and Thea Bjelde saving Norway.
The goal shortly after the break was richly deserved for New Zealand. They looked as if they wanted it more than Norway, thriving on the incredible atmosphere in front of their adoring fans.
After the goal, the home side continued to dominate. Paige Riley had a sweet strike pushed aside by Norway goalkeeper Aurora Mikalsen just after the hour mark and Tottenham's Ria Percival fired narrowly wide.
Norway piled on the pressure in the last 15 minutes of the game, with Tuva Hansen forcing a stunning save from Victoria Esson in the New Zealand goal.
But a break against the run of play saw the hosts win a penalty, with Hansen blocking Malia Steinmetz's cross with her hand. The penalty wasn't given in real-time and was announced to the stadium by the referee after a VAR check, a new initiative in place for this Summer's tournament.
Unfortunately for Ria Percival, in trying to take the perfect penalty, she smashed her effort into the crossbar shortly before nine added minutes were announced. A lot of credit has to go to Mikalsen for beaming at Percival for the entire build-up to the spot kick, potentially putting her off.
Norway threw everything they had on the day at the hosts but were altogether underwhelming. In defence, they were shaky at best, and going forward lacked any sort of rhythm. Aside from one or two long-range efforts, Victoria Esson was largely unchallenged in the New Zealand goal.
The victory was celebrated wildly at full-time, with the entire squad running onto the pitch. Despite qualifying for the World Cup for the sixth time, they'd never won a match at the tournament, drawing three and losing twelve of their previous games.
But New Zealand now have a fantastic chance of not only continuing their good form, but also qualifying for the knockout stages for the very first time, with games against the Philippines and Switzerland to come. For Norway, a bitterly disappointing start will need to trigger a reaction if they are to get out of Group A.
One down, sixty-three to go!