The time has finally come; the Women’s World Cup is now underway where the two hosts nations Australia and New Zealand battled it out against the Republic of Ireland and Norway respectively in their first group-stage matches.
Let’s look at how these matches panned out after the opening day.
New Zealand vs Norway:
As New Zealand kicked off the match at Auckland’s Eden Park, it began quite cagey with some early chances from both sides within the first five minutes. New Zealand’s Malia Steinmetz and Norway’s Frida Maanum saw their shots go over the bar in the sixth and 20th minute respectively.
The Kiwis looked to be more dangerous and composed on the ball having more possession than the Norwegians in the first half and looked tenacious to win the ball back when they lost it. Norway’s Ballon d’Or winner Ada Hegerberg had her shot blocked by Rebekah Stott in the 37th minute and similarly, New Zealand’s Hannah Wilkinson saw her shot blocked by Thea Bjelde just before the half-time whistle.
In the 48th minute, Indiah-Paige Riley found the run of Jacqui Hand who was able to run past defender Mathilde Harviken and find Hannah Wilkinson in the middle who tapped it in to score the opening goal of the Women’s World Cup and give New Zealand the lead.
Norway looked keen to find an equaliser through Maanum once again but her shot was wide of the goal. New Zealand looked to extend their lead with Wilkinson’s shot going wide as well and Paige Riley’s curling effort saved by Norway goalkeeper Aurora Mikalsen.
As the game was heading into the last ten minutes of regular time, Norway was ever so close to levelling the scores as Tuva Hansen’s shot was pushed onto the crossbar by New Zealand keeper Victoria Esson.
In the 87th minute, a VAR check was called for a possible penalty against Norway in which referee Yoshimi Yamashita declared it as handball after looking at the monitor and the co-hosts were awarded a penalty.
The responsibility for the penalty was on the shoulders of Ria Percival where 42,137 fans at Eden Park watched as she took her spot kick and struck the crossbar, keeping these scores the same. Pressure rose for the home team as nine minutes were added on and Norway were pushing hard to find an equaliser. Guro Reiten almost found the goal to level the scores but her shot went wide in the eighth minute of added time.
As the final whistle went, emotions were high for New Zealand as they finally managed to win their first-ever Women’s World Cup match and it was even more special to do it in front of a home crowd.
Australia vs Republic of Ireland:
Prior to Australia’s opening match at Stadium Australia, Matilda’s fans were struck by the shocking news of Sam Kerr not being able to play the first two opening matches of the Women’s World Cup due to a calf strain. The main question raised was how the Matilda’s were going to manage without their all-time leading goal scorer.
The game began with both sides coming out with a high intensity in the middle of the park with the Aussies maintaining the majority of the possession. Australia showed promising signs from set pieces with Clare Hunt and Haley Raso’s headers falling wide from corners in the 17th and 28th minutes.
Caitlin Foord had to be the main attacking threat with Sam Kerr’s absence where she had her shot blocked by Louise Quinn in the 35th minute and a shot a minute later hitting the side-netting. Despite the Matildas holding most of the possession throughout the first half, Ireland’s defensive shape stayed strong making it difficult for the Aussies to create chances.
Early on in the second half, Haley Raso was tripped by Ireland’s Marissa Sheva in the box and Australia were awarded a penalty. As it looked like Caitlin Foord was going to take the spot kick, she handed it off to Captain Steph Catley who slotted it into the top left corner sending Ireland’s keeper Courtney Brosnan the wrong way.
As momentum built for the girls in Green and Gold, Mary Fowler and Caitlin Foord had chances to double the lead but both missed the target.
A sudden shift in momentum saw the girls in green looking threatening from an offensive point of view with dangerous crosses from the wings challenging Mackenzie Arnold in her box and their pressure up the field made it difficult for Australia to play from the back.
The Matildas had chances on the break from Foord and Gorry to increase the lead to two, but Ireland’s defence stayed strong and kept them in the match. Ireland won a free-kick just outside the box where Megan Connolly’s shot just went over the bar with a slight touch by the Australian wall.
The Irish were edging closer to an equaliser with chances from Katie McCabe and Lucy Quinn in the dying moments of the game, but the Matildas held on for a momentous win on home soil with 75,784 fans watching on making it a record crowd for a women’s football match.