Australia, NZ record wins on FIFA Women’s WC opening day

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In a dramatic start to the FIFA Women's World Cup, Australia edged out debutants Ireland, and underdogs New Zealand stunned European powerhouse Norway with surprise victories on Thursday, reported Xinhua.

The month-long tournament, hosted in the Southern Hemisphere for the first time, features an expanded roster of 32 teams, with the final scheduled for August 20 in Sydney.

Co-hosts Australia and New Zealand initiated the tournament with identical 1-0 penalty victories.

At Sydney's Stadium Australia, under crisp conditions and before a record crowd for a women's football match in the country, the Matildas were tested by a gallant Irish side playing their first-ever World Cup game.

A penalty from Steph Catley in the 52nd minute was the sole difference between the Group B teams, with Australia, the highly favored side, facing a stern challenge from Ireland, who had several chances late but couldn't find an equalizer.

The Matildas' preparations were marred by the withdrawal of captain Sam Kerr, the face of the tournament, who was ruled out of Australia's first two matches after sustaining a calf injury in training on Wednesday.

"It's been a long buildup to this game, and there has obviously been a lot of anticipation, a lot of anxiety," said Catley, who stepped in as skipper for Kerr. "We were nervy and probably didn't play as calmly as we normally do, and Ireland were fantastic."

Earlier in the day, New Zealand pulled off an upset against Group A favorites Norway, starting the tournament on a high note.

"I am so, so proud. We have been fighting for this for so long," said New Zealand co-captain Ali Riley. "We really wanted to inspire young girls across the nation, and I think we did that tonight. We showed that anything is possible."

In front of over 42,000 fans at Auckland's renowned Eden Park — a record crowd for a football match in New Zealand — the Football Ferns secured their first-ever World Cup victory when Hannah Wilkinson scored in the 48th minute.

New Zealand, who had competed in five previous World Cups without a win, was resolute in breaking their losing streak in front of their passionate home crowd.

After a goalless first half, New Zealand was rewarded when Jacqui Hand's accurate cross was brilliantly finished by Wilkinson from close range.

Norway, the 1995 champions, began pressing for an equalizer, coming close in the 81st minute when Tuva Hansen's long-range shot was tipped onto the crossbar by New Zealand goalkeeper Victoria Esson.

New Zealand had a chance to secure the match in the 90th minute after being awarded a penalty following a Hansen handball determined by a video review.

However, Ria Percival's penalty struck the crossbar, and New Zealand had to endure 10 tense minutes of stoppage time before jubilation spread throughout the stadium.

The day's euphoria stood in sharp contrast to the grim scenes in Auckland earlier in the day, where a shooting shocked New Zealand's largest city. Three people, including the gunman, died in the incident near where several teams, including Norway, were staying.

After determining there was no national security risk, the game proceeded as planned, with a moment of silence observed for the victims of the shooting.

Group A continues on Friday with Switzerland taking on the Philippines, while Canada faces Nigeria in Group B. Spain and Costa Rica will commence Group C action in the day's final match.

  •  Women’s WC
  •  FIFA


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