New Zealand 1-0 Norway: Wilkinson strike hands hosts shock win

The highly-anticipated 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup kicked off on Thursday at Auckland’s Eden Park, just hours after the city was rocked by news of a fatal shooting in the Central Business District. With Norway’s hotel located near the scene, the Grasshoppene had just nine hours to ready themselves mentally ahead of a gruelling opening fixture.

NZL: Esson; A. Riley, Bowen, Stott, Bott; Steinmetz, Percival, Hassett; Hand, Wilkinson, I. Riley

NOR: Mikalsen; T. Hansen, Harviken, Mjelde, Bjelde; Reiten, Maanum, Engen; Blakstad, Hegerberg, C. G. Hansen

Despite Norway being clear favourites ahead of kickoff, it was New Zealand that had the better opportunities early on – with the game plan clearly to bag an early goal and then defend like their lives depended on it.

Hege Riise’s side lacked ruthlessness in front of goal, ultimately squandering their few big chances throughout the early stages – including Frida Magnum’s effort sent well over the woodwork as the twenty-minute mark approached.

The best opportunity for either side to put themselves ahead fell in Norway’s favour, as Caroline Graham Hansen was able to pick out Ada Hegerberg inside the area. The former Ballon d’Or winner was stopped in her tracks by a well-timed challenge from Brighton’s Rebekah Stott, ensuring the game would remain goalless as half-time drew ever closer.

And as the whistle blew to indicate the break, it was Jitka Kimková who would head down the tunnel as the happier of the two coaches – with his side having clearly been buoyed by a brilliant home crowd united in immense adversity. Hege Riise’s Norway had simply failed to provide adequate service to the front three, with the midfield not ticking as smoothly as we’ve come to expect from the Grasshoppene.

New Zealand’s unrelenting pressure paid off mere moments into the second half, as a long ball down the right flank allowed Jacqui Hand to surge forward, eventually firing a pinpoint cross in towards Hannah Wilkinson. As the forward pummelled her effort past the frozen Mikalsen, Eden Park erupted – the Football Ferns were on the brink of their first-ever win at a Women’s World Cup.

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Having skied her earlier effort, Maanum sent another golden chance wide of the woodwork under very little pressure at all – with the skewed strike summing up Norway’s performance thus far. A speculative cross from Haavi on the left flank was misplaced minutes later, settling on the roof of the net rather than at the feet of one of her attacking colleagues.

Ria Percival could, and perhaps should, have doubled New Zealand’s lead with fifteen minutes remaining. Wilkinson did well to hold up play as she was forced wide, before picking out Percival – but her strike flew inches wide of the upright, as the Football Ferns continued to pile on the pressure.

Just as New Zealand began to tire, the hosts were handed an opportunity to double their lead after Tuva Hansen was deemed to have handled the ball inside the area. Ria Percival stepped up to strike – thundering her effort against the crossbar, despite having Mikalsen beaten.

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New Zealand were able to see out a late flurry of attacks from their European opponents, ultimately claiming their first ever win at the FIFA Women’s World Cup. It couldn’t have come at a better time for Jitka Klimková’s side, unifying the city of Auckland and the nation as a whole just hours after a fatal shooting in the city centre.

Group A action resumes at 6am UK time on Friday, 21 July as the Philippines face Switzerland. New Zealand will look to pick up another win as they face the Philippines on July 25, while Norway’s next match will be against Switzerland on the same day.

FromTheSpot will be bringing you coverage of every game throughout the FIFA Women’s World Cup, including previews and detailed reports. We’ll cover games in the buildup to the tournament too, so you can get a feel for the potential favourites ahead of action getting underway in Australia and New Zealand.

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