Football World Cup: New Zealand shock highly favoured Norway with historic win in tournament opener

New Zealand have launched their Women's Football World Cup campaign in stunning fashion with a 1-0 win over highly favoured Norway in the tournament opener in Auckland on Thursday

The win is the first for New Zealand - both men and women - at the sport's showpiece event, breaking a 32-year drought in a moment that will go down in the annals of NZ sporting folklore.

In the match's decisive moment, outstanding striker Hannah Wilkinson steered home a pristine cross from Jacqui Hand to give the Football Ferns the lead in the 48th minute to send the 42,137 packed into Eden Park - a record attendance for a football match in New Zealand - into hysterics.

Ria Percival had a chance to put the result beyond doubt in the 88th minute but struck the post from the penalty, after a review for handball went New Zealand's way.

But it didn't matter. Wilkinson's goal was enough to clinch one of the Football Ferns' most famous victories - one they richly deserved after dictating proceedings throughout against the shell-shocked Norwegians.

Hannah Wilkinson after scoring the winning goal.
Hannah Wilkinson after scoring the winning goal. Photo credit: Getty Images

The 1995 World Cup winners weren't allowed to find their rhythm in the face of the controlled aggression of the Ferns, who played with a composed intensity their disjointed opponents couldn't match.

Led by heroic efforts from captain Ali Riley and Rebekah Stott, the NZ defence shut down the vaunted 12th-ranked Norway's much hyped offence, with superstar Ada Hegerberg afforded no room to breathe by the pace of the Kiwis.

Much of the narrative during the build-up to the tournament centered around the need for New Zealand to start fast to capture the often fickle Kiwi sporting public's attention, and this result will go a huge way to ensuring that, as well as dispelling any concerns over ticket sales.

It will also provide a huge boost to their chances of advancing to the knockout rounds, with Group A matches against Switzerland and the Philippines to follow. 

The road to the tournament has been rocky for the Ferns, who have won just a single match all year, and the emotion was written all over their faces at the final whistle.

Riley was in tears, while coach Jitka Klimkova raised in her hands to the sky in ecstasy, after her team had saved their best for the biggest stage - with the eyes of the football world trained keenly on Aotearoa.

After a colourful opening ceremony, the teams took to the pitch, where a moment's silence in memory of the victims of the shooting in the Auckland CBD earlier on Thursday was observed.

Football Ferns celebrate their win.
Football Ferns celebrate their win. Photo credit: Getty Images

The NZ attack applied some early pressure, forcing the Norwegian defence into some shaky moments through an impressive first quarter where they looked more composed than their vaunted opponents.

Wilkinson was the recipient of some slick service from her backfield - particularly CJ Bott - and had the ball in space on a couple of occasions in some encouraging signs for the hosts.

Norway eventually found some rhythm, asking questions that the NZ defence had to scramble to answer.

But it was New Zealand who looked the more threatening, as the Norwegians' frustrations began to show with persistent fouls, as they struggled to earn field position.

The most promising first-half chance for Norway came after a scything run by Caroline Hansen. Her cross found dangerwoman Ada Hegerberg, whose first-time shot was critically blocked by Rebekha Stott.

Moments before halftime, Wilkinson latched on to a pinpoint pass from Jacqui Hand but her shot was deflected by some superb scrambling defence.

The decisive moment came just two minutes after halftime, when Wilkinson slotted home a perfect delivery from Hand to give New Zealand an unlikely lead. 

The movement was sparked by a deft touch by the exceptional Indiah Page Riley, which set Hand free near halfway to run deep to the edge of the box, before timing her pacey low cross to perfection, leaving a simple on touch for Wilkinson to direct into the back of the net.

Opening ceremony at Eden Park.
Opening ceremony at Eden Park. Photo credit: Getty Images

The goal saw momentum swing further in the Kiwis' favour, with Percival's strike form outside of the box drifting just wide.

In the 80th minute, Hederberg hit the post from long range, resulting in a collective gasp of relief from the Eden Park faithful.

The Ferns had a golden opportunity to seal the contest seven minutes later, when the referee's pitchside review resulted in a handball penalty, only for Percival's top-corner strike to rebound off the post.

Guro Reiten had Norway's best chance of the match in injury time but stabbed her shot wide with the goalmouth beckoning.

Too little, too late. The occasion was all New Zealand's, and deservedly so.

New Zealand 1 (Hannah Wilkinson 48th min) Norway 0. HT: 0-0