Steph Catley had a dream start to her World Cup campaign as she netted the only goal of the game and was named Player of the Match as co-hosts Australia beat the Republic of Ireland.
In front of 75,784 supporters - a record crowd for a women’s game in the country - captains Catley and Katie McCabe led out the two sides after the Aussie's Sam Kerr pulled out with a calf injury, with a third Gunner also starting the game in Caitlin Foord.
After a goalless first half, on 52 minutes Steph took up the responsibility from the penalty spot when Marissa Sheva pushed Hayley Raso over in the box, and coolly dispatched the kick into the top corner to put her side in front.
The Matildas had to cling on for their win though as Ireland pushed them hard, for whom McCabe put in a typically industrious, full-throttle display and had a half-chance to grab a draw in stoppage-time but saw a shot saved despite a crowd of defenders surrounding her.
Speaking post-match, Steph discussed the penalty: “It was a big moment. I’ve been practising a lot, and I do like taking set pieces, so I take it like a set piece, take a breath, hit it where I want to hit it and luckily it went in.
“I think it’s been the longest four years in my life building up to that game. The fact we got the win, got a clean sheet and battled hard in situations that are really difficult. I think they are one of the best teams in the world at set pieces, so If we handle threats like that well throughout the tournament, we stand in good stead.”
All three of our representatives in Sydney played the full 90 minutes, and Catley should once again don the armband when she and Foord face Nigeria next Thursday, while McCabe’s team will take on Canada the day before, aiming to try and keep themselves in the competition.
Maanum suffers shock loss
Meanwhile, a fourth Gunner was also in action on the opening night, however Frida Maanum’s Norway suffered a shock defeat to New Zealand who recorded their first-ever victory in the competition.
Roared on by over 42,000 in Auckland, Hannah Wilkinson netted the only goal of the game to give the co-hosts a huge victory - their first in 15 World Cup matches - and stun the 1995 champions, and the margin of the result could have been wider had the home side not missed an 89th-minute penalty.
Frida had a golden chance to score her first-ever World Cup goal soon after Wilkinson netted three minutes after the break but dragged the opportunity wide from close range, and she would be replaced on 74 minutes by Manchester United’s Vilde Boe Risa.
Norway now face Switzerland in their second group game on Tuesday, knowing a win is almost imperative if they’re to advance into the knockout stages.
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