Co-hosts New Zealand won on the global stage for the first time against Norway in the opening match of the 2023 Fifa Women’s World Cup.
On a historic night in Auckland, the Football Ferns staged a big upset when Hannah Wilkinson stroked home Jacqui Hand’s cross in front of a record-breaking crowd of 42,137 at Eden Park.
Even Ria Percival’s 89th-minute missed penalty following Tuva Hansen’s handball did not dampen the mood.
Fans flocked in their tens of thousands to support their team, which had failed to win any of its previous 15 World Cup games.
They were rewarded when Wilkinson broke the deadlock in the 48th minute, igniting wild celebrations in the terraces.
Norway, the world champions in 1995, might have equalized quickly after Wilkinson’s goal, but Arsenal’s Frida Maanum shot wide.
New Zealand went toe to toe with their opponents and it required a diving save by Aurora Mikalsen to prevent Ali Riley from doubling the lead.
There was a minute’s silence before kick-off for the victims of a deadly shooting in Auckland earlier on Thursday.
WORLD CUP OFF TO A FLYING START
New Zealand had waited three years for this moment since being named co-hosts with Australia in 2020.
Fifa predict this tournament will be watched by two billion people globally on television and, with the eyes of the world on Eden Park for the opening game, the home crowd lapped up the occasion.
There were emotional scenes as Percival and Riley, who are both appearing at their fifth World Cup, fought back tears during the national anthems.
When play did start after an opening ceremony that ended with a spectacular fireworks display, Mexican Waves broke out in the crowd.
There were screams from the stands each time the home side threatened, while Brighton defender Rebekah Stott received a standing ovation for a wonderfully-timed challenge to deny Ada Hegerberg the opening goal of the tournament.
But it was nothing compared to the noise that greeted Wilkinson’s goal.
Wilkinson was the last New Zealand player to score for her country at a World Cup – back in 2015 in Canada.
The home side had to endure ten minutes of stoppage time before they could celebrate an unforgettable night.