AUCKLAND, New Zealand –
On a day that started with tragedy, the Football Ferns triumphed.
Hannah Wilkinson scored to open the second half and New Zealand went on to upset Norway 1-0 on Thursday for its first-ever win at the Women’s World Cup, hours after a shooting in downtown Auckland shocked the host nation.
A gunman stormed a high-rise construction site near Norway’s team hotel and opened fire, killing two people. The gunman was found dead after a police shootout.
There was increased security at Eden Park stadium, where 42,137 — a record crowd for a soccer match in New Zealand — were on hand to cheer on the home team, co-hosts of the tournament with Australia. New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins was among those at the game. He went into the locker room after the game and thanked the team for an inspirational performance.
After an opening ceremony that honoured New Zealand’s Indigenous heritage, there was a moment of silence for the victims of the shooting. Four people were wounded in the attack, including a police officer.
New Zealand’s Football Ferns had played in five previous World Cups, but hadn’t won a match.
“We really wanted to inspire young girls across the nation and I think we did that tonight. We showed that anything is possible,” said captain Ali Riley, who had happy tears in her eyes.
Norway couldn’t finish off its chances in the first half while the Ferns defended well. Ada Hegerberg’s attempt in the 37th minute was deftly defended by Rebekah Stott and the match was scoreless after the first half.
The first woman to win the prestigious Ballon d’Or award, Hegerberg has 43 goals in 77 international appearances. Currently playing professionally for Lyon, she has scored a record 59 goals in the Champions League. But she couldn’t find the back of the net in Auckland.
Instead, Wilkinson scored in the opening moments of the second half. Jaqui Hand moved up the right side and placed a perfect cross at Wilkinson’s feet for the goal. While the home crowd wildly celebrated, Norway goalkeeper Aurora Mikalson stood with her hands on her hips.
Norway won the World Cup in 1995. At the last tournament in 2019, the team fell to England in the quarterfinals. At the Women’s Euro in 2022, England routed the Norwegians 8-0. In the run-up to this game, winger Caroline Graham Hansen called the World Cup a chance to “start fresh.”
“(It’s) the opening game, they are the hosts. We have talked about this. We knew they were going to go out there and be aggressive,” Norway midfielder Guro Reiten said. “We knew exactly how they wanted to play but still, we were so poor, especially in that first half. I’m very disappointed.”
Tuva Hansen nearly tied it for Norway in the 83rd but her shot caromed off the crossbar. The Ferns had a chance to double their lead in the 89th after video review awarded them a penalty, but Ria Percival’s attempt hit the post.
Stoppage time stretched for more than 10 minutes before the whistle blew and New Zealand’s bench rushed the field in celebration. Riley pounded her chest for the electrified fans.
“It’s really hard to put into words, but absolutely surreal,” Ferns defender Katie Bowen said of the drought-breaking victory. “I mean we made history tonight, but we can’t rest on that. Our goal is to get out of the group.”
Bowen said she was awakened by an early morning call from her brother, checking if she was OK after hearing about the Auckland shooting.
“I think everyone was just pretty taken aback, because this doesn’t really happen in New Zealand,” Bowen said. “But I think, especially on a game day, down to just each individual doing what they needed to do to process it and make sure they could focus on the game at the same time.”
New Zealand got the nod to stage the World Cup’s first game, although co-host Australia’s match against Ireland in Sydney started about an hour after fulltime in Auckland.
Considered the favourites in Group A, the Norwegians went into the game 5-1-1 all-time against New Zealand, with the only loss coming in a 2019 exhibition match.
Norway coach Hege Riise said her players were not impacted by the shooting, despite the incident happened near their hotel.
“We knew it was under control, we felt safe. Some players slept through it,” Riise said. “We had an early morning meeting with everyone. It hasn’t had an effect on how we performed in the game.”
New Zealand had struggled in the run-up to the tournament on home soil, with just one win in its last 11 matches.
The two teams had met just once before at the World Cup: Norway beat the Ferns 4-0 in 1991.
Group A play continues Friday with Switzerland playing the Philippines in Dunedin. New Zealand’s next match is Tuesday against the Philippines in Wellington, while Norway plays Switzerland in Hamilton. The top two teams in the group will advance to the knockout stage.