Football Ferns vibe after emotional win for New Zealand at Women's World Cup

Thu, Jul 20, 2023
Soccer News (AP)

Football Ferns vibe after emotional win for New Zealand at Women's World Cup

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (AP) - The Football Ferns were vibing to the music on the team bus as it pulled away after New Zealand's first-ever Women's World Cup victory. The blasting song, appropriately enough, was Outkast's "The Way You Move."

The Ferns certainly appear to be on the move.

With a 1-0 victory over Group A favorites Norway secured, New Zealand is in good position to advance to the knockout stage - a massive achievement for the tournament co-hosts, who had never won a match at the World Cup before Thursday night.

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It was a monumental victory for women's soccer in a nation that is better known for it's love of rugby. More than 42,000 fans were at the game, making it the biggest crowd ever for a men's or women's soccer match in New Zealand.

"To see the way we performed and fought, the resilience of the this team, how gritty the effort, the sprinting. Everything. That is the kind of performance we wanted to show. That's who we are," captain Ali Riley said. "And that is how we can inspire young girls. That is how we can make our nation proud and hopefully change the sporting culture in this country."

New Zealand now turns to a match Tuesday against tournament rookies the Philippines in Wellington. Norway plays Switzerland in Hamilton.

"This is just the beginning," coach Jitka Klimkova said. "If we will have this crowd behind us every time we step up on the field, that's what we need, really that push from them."

The Ferns, who made the field as hosts with Australia, had won just one of their last 11 matches heading into the World Cup. Every tournament host before them had advanced out of its group - so the pressure was on.

Hannah Wilkinson scored in the opening minutes of the second half, and that was enough for the win. Wilkinson relentlessly pressured the Norwegians, winners of the 1995 World Cup, and the the Ferns' defense ultimately held.

Afterward, New Zealand Prime minister Chris Hipkins visited the team locker room to congratulate the players.

"I think with the performance, we deserved it," said Riley, who plays professionally for Angel City in Los Angeles. "I know we came into this as underdogs. I know there was a lot of doubt, a lot of articles being written saying how many times we haven't won a game. But we believed in ourselves the whole time."

But the mood was somewhat bittersweet. Hours before the opening match, New Zealand was shaken by a rare fatal shooting in downtown Auckland. Two people were killed by a gunman who opened fire on a construction site near Norway's team hotel. The assailant died after a shootout with police.

After an opening ceremony that honored New Zealand's Indigenous heritage, there was a moment of silence for the victims of the shooting.

"It wasn't just about winning the game. This is about inspiring our entire country. With what happened this morning, trying to do something positive today and honor the first responders," Riley said after the match. " That's a lot. And it felt like we did it. I think we did it."


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