Auckland, New Zealand –
A day that began in tragedy, the Football Ferns triumphed.
Hannah Wilkinson opened the second half with a goal from Hannah Wilkinson on Thursday as New Zealand beat Norway 1-0 to claim their first Women’s World Cup victory, hours after shootings in downtown Auckland shocked the hosts.
A man with a gun stormed a high-rise construction site near a team hotel in Norway and opened fire, killing two people. The shooter was found dead after a police shootout.
Security was heightened at Eden Park Stadium and a record crowd of 42,137 for a football match in New Zealand turned out to support the home team co-hosted with Australia. New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins was among those in attendance. After the game, he entered the locker room and thanked his team for an inspiring performance.
After an opening ceremony honoring New Zealand’s Indigenous traditions, a moment of silence was held for the shooting victims. Four people, including a police officer, were injured in the attack.
New Zealand’s Football Ferns have played in the last five World Cups but failed to win a match.
“We wanted to inspire young girls across the country and I think we did that tonight. We showed that anything is possible,” captain Ali Riley said with happy tears in his eyes.
Norway were unable to capitalize on chances in the first half despite Fernes’ strong defense. Ada Hegerberg’s shot in the 37th minute was deftly defended by Rebecca Stott to end the first half scoreless.
The first woman to win the prestigious Ballon d’Or award, Hegerberg has scored 43 goals in 77 international appearances. She now plays professionally for Lyon, where she has scored 59 goals, the most in the Champions League. But she couldn’t find behind the goal in Auckland.
Instead, Wilkinson scored at the opening moment of the second half. Jackie Hand came up the right flank and delivered a perfect cross to Wilkinson’s feet to score the goal. Norwegian goalkeeper Aurora Michalsson stood with her hands on her hips as the home crowd enthusiastically celebrated.
Norway won the World Cup in 1995, but lost to England in the quarter-finals of the last tournament in 2019. England beat Norway 8-0 in the women’s Euro 2022. Ahead of the match, winger Caroline Graham Hansen called the World Cup a chance to “start fresh”.
“(It’s) the opening game and they’re the hosts,” said Norwegian midfielder Gro Leyten. “We knew how they wanted to play, but they were still very poor, especially in the first half. It’s a shame.”
Tuva Hansen nearly equalized for Norway in the 83rd inning, but his shot went wide over the crossbar. After being awarded a penalty by video review, Fernes had a chance to double the lead in the 89th inning, but Leah Percival’s shot hit the post.
After more than 10 minutes of stoppage time, the whistle blew and the New Zealand bench shouted their congratulations as they rushed onto the field. Riley punched his chest for an excited fan.
Ferns defender Katie Bowen said of the drought-beating win, “It’s really hard to put into words, but it’s just not real.” “Tonight we made history, but that doesn’t make us comfortable. Our goal is to get out of the group.”
Bowen said he was awakened by a phone call from his brother in the early morning after hearing about the shooting in Oakland to check on him.
“I think everyone was pretty surprised because something like this doesn’t really happen in New Zealand,” Bowen said. “But I think especially on game day, each individual just does what they need to do to be able to handle the game and be able to focus on the game at the same time.”
The World Cup opening match was hosted by New Zealand, but the co-hosted Australia-Ireland game in Sydney began about an hour after full-time in Auckland.
The Norwegians, who are considered Group A favorites, went 5-1-1 against New Zealand, their only loss coming in the 2019 exhibition match.
Norway coach Hege Riese said his players were not affected by the shooting, even though the incident happened near his hotel.
“We knew it was under control and we felt safe. Some players spent it sleeping,” Riese said. “We had an early morning meeting with everyone. It didn’t affect our performance in the game.”
New Zealand have struggled to qualify for the competition at home, winning just one of their last 11 games.
The two teams have met only once in the World Cup, in 1991 when Norway defeated Ferns 4-0.
Group A matches continue on Friday, when Switzerland will face the Philippines in Dunedin. New Zealand’s next games are Tuesday in Wellington against the Philippines, while Norway face Switzerland in Hamilton. The top two teams in each group advance to the finals.