Co-hosts New Zealand opened the 2023 Fifa Women’s World Cup in stunning style against Norway as they won on the global stage for the first time.
On a memorable night in Auckland, the Football Ferns produced a huge upset after Hannah Wilkinson swept home Jacqui Hand’s cross in front of an ecstatic crowd of 42,137 at Eden Park – a record for a football match in New Zealand.
Even Ria Percival’s 89th-minute missed penalty, after a handball by Tuva Hansen, failed to dampen the celebrations.
Fans turned up in their tens of thousands to cheer their side who had failed to win any of their previous 15 World Cup games.
They were rewarded when Wilkinson broke the deadlock in the 48th minute to spark joyous scenes in the stands.
Norway, the 1995 world champions, should have equalised soon after Wilkinson’s goal but Arsenal’s Frida Maanum poked a glorious chance wide.
New Zealand went toe to toe with their opponents and it required a diving save Aurora Mikalsen by to prevent Ali Riley from doubling the lead.
There was a minute’s silence before kick-off for the victims of a deadly shooting in Auckland earlier on Thursday.
World Cup off to a flying start
New Zealand had waited three years for this moment since being named co-hosts with Australia in 2020.
Fifa predict this tournament will be watch by two billion people globally on television and, with the eyes of the world on Eden Park for the opening game, the home crowd lapped up the occasion.
There were emotional scenes as Percival and Riley, who are both appearing at their fifth World Cup, fought back tears during the national anthems.
When play did start after an opening ceremony that ended with a spectacular fireworks display, Mexican Waves broke out in the crowd.
There were screams from the stands each time the home side threatened, while Brighton defender Rebekah Stott received a standing ovation for a wonderfully-times challenge to deny Ada Hegerberg the opening goal of the tournament.
But it was nothing compared to the noise that greeted Wilkinson’s goal.
Wilkinson was the last New Zealand player to score for her country at the 2015 World Cup on home soil.
The home side had to endure nine minutes of stoppage time before they could celebrate an unforgettable victory.