The first matchday of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup has come and gone, and it couldn’t have been much bigger for the co-hosting nations – particularly those that rep the City blue.
Both Australia and New Zealand took to the pitch in fixtures that would break the nation’s respective records for attendance at a Women’s football match.
A 42,137-strong crowd turned out at Auckland’s Eden Park for the tournament’s opener, while 75,784 people packed into Stadium Australia to cheer on the Matildas. Here’s a look at what they saw, through a City-centric lens…
New Zealand 1-0 Norway
Despite playing in front of a large crowd fuelled by the adrenaline of the opening clash of a World Cup on home soil, the Football Ferns were expected to be up against it facing the 12th-ranked Norway.
Many Australians have understandably adopted New Zealand as their ‘second team’ for the World Cup, but this is even more evident amongst the City fanbase with plenty of familiar faces in the Ferns squad.
We were all delighted to see current City stars Hannah Wilkinson and Katie Bowen named in the starting XI, joined by club legend and all-time Women’s appearance leader, Rebekah Stott.
The Ferns impressed in the first half which ended deadlocked at 0-0, the central defensive pairing of Bowen and Stott ensuring there was nothing easy in the final third for Norway.
It was just three minutes into the second half that the crucial moment came.
Starting with a Bowen free kick deep in defence, Jacqueline Hand broke away down the right and played the ball into the box. As City fans are so often used to seeing, Wilkinson timed her run perfectly to meet the cross and fire home the first goal of the World Cup.
Despite a nervy nine minutes of stoppage time, a professional second half saw New Zealand cause a huge upset win with Wilkinson’s goal the difference.
Australia 1-0 Ireland
While we may not have any current players in the Matildas squad, the City alumni are just about everywhere you look.
They were let by 4x City Championship winner, Steph Catley, who took the captaincy following Sam Kerr being ruled out due to a calf injury.
No stranger to wearing the armband having captained us to three Championships, Catley was joined in the XI by a pair of former City teammates in Ellie Carpenter and Alanna Kennedy.
In a similar story to the first fixture of the day, the opening 45 minutes ebbed and flowed with both sides enjoying the momentum at different periods.
The Irish were right up for the fight against the heavily favoured Matildas, proving they weren’t just just going to be a sideshow to one of Australian football’s biggest-ever nights.
Their resilience came to an end a little over five minutes into the second half when Hayley Raso was brought down in the box and the referee pointed to the spot.
Up stepped Catley – a City legend and Melbourne’s own. She gave Australia the lead with a penalty that any goalkeeper in the world would’ve struggled to save, firing her spot-kick into the left corner of the goal.
Emily van Egmond joined her former City teammates on the pitch for the final 20 or so minutes of the contest, which saw both teams have a few half-chances but the 1-0 scoreline remained as the final whistle blew seeing the Matildas secured the three first.
New Zealand and Australia will now both enjoy a few days to rest and recover ahead of their next fixtures. The Ferns will return to the pitch on Tuesday to face the Philippines, while the Matildas take on Nigeria next Thursday night.
New Zealand v Phillippines
Tuesday 25 July, 3:30pm KO (AEST)
Wellington Regional Stadium
Live on Optus Sport
Australia v Nigeria
Thursday 27 July, 8:00pm KO (AEST)
Live on Channel 7 & Optus Sport