AUCKLAND, New Zealand – The Socceroos took plenty of time for their first World Cup victory.
Hannah Wilkinson scored in the 48th minute as New Zealand stunned Norway 1-0 to open the 2023 World Cup on Thursday night. The Men missed a chance to double the score in the 90th when Ria Percival’s free-kick crashed off the crossbar, but it barely touched the wild crowd of 42,137, the largest ever to see a New Zealand soccer match.
“Words can’t even describe it, honestly. I’m so proud to be in Fern tonight. So grateful to the Kiwis who came out and supported us tonight. We really felt your support,” said Wilkinson. “I can’t really describe how special it is. It’s amazing. It really is.”
The fans whistled and cheered for the final minutes of the game, and a stampede erupted when time finally expired. Longtime captain Ali Riley screamed, “We did it!” and the team spent a few minutes hugging and dancing while the crowd sat with them. New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins visited the team’s locker room after the match.
“He was very proud. Very proud of this team. He was grateful for the performance he saw,” said coach Jitka Klimkova. “It was a very nice moment for us to have this kind of guest.”
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It was a joyous end to a day that began in sadness after a deadly shooting in the city’s Central Business District, just steps from the site of the FIFA Fan Festival. Two people were killed and five people were injured, including a policeman. The 24-year-old gunman, who was working at the building where the shooting took place, is also dead.
“It’s very sad to have it happen,” Wilkinson said, “but thankfully we didn’t let it shake us.”
New Zealand were winless in their first five World Cup matches, and few would have expected that streak to end against Norway. Norway is ranked 12th in the world, with one of the best players in the game in Ada Hegerberg. They have won one World Cup, and several were being tipped before the tournament to win another. Or at least reach the final.
New Zealand, meanwhile, are ranked 26th, having scored just one goal or less in three of their previous five World Cup games. There are few opportunities to train together, and she often has to travel long distances for games. Even getting a game against Norway was considered a great achievement.
But the Finns gave the game to Norway from the start, and they had several chances in the first half.
“It was an open game we want to play again,” said the coach of Norway Hege Riise. “New Zealand got momentum in the game, winning the first and second ball, and the crowd was laughing. We were caught a bit behind so there was no momentum in the game at all.”
Indeed, it was only a matter of time before the Fearns broke through. And just after half time, they did. Running up the right, Wilkinson got in behind the defense and crossed for Jacqui Hand from the center of the box.
“I said this is going in, this is going in, this is going in,” Wilkinson said.
Norway had a chance to equalize in the 81st, but Tuva Hansen hit the crossbar.
“I still have goosebumps,” Klimkova said. “We have waited for this moment for a long time. To have this opportunity at home, to beat Norway, to hear our fans behind us, it’s just an unforgettable moment.”