Just Women’s Sports is here with your daily World Cup Digest, breaking down all of the biggest storylines from the first day of action in Australia and New Zealand.
Sam Kerr missed Australia’s World Cup opener Thursday after picking up a calf injury during training Wednesday. While the Matildas still secured a 1-0 win against Ireland, their all-time leading scorer will be out for at least the next game. The team will “re-assess her following our second group-stage match,” so she could return for July 31 match against Canada.
“Unfortunately I sustained a calf injury yesterday in training,” Kerr said in a statement. “I wanted to share this with everyone so there is no distraction from what we came here to achieve. Of course I would have loved to have been out there tonight, but I can’t wait to be a part of this amazing journey which starts now.”
Australia head coach Tony Gustavsson called the injury “devastating” and said after the win that the team did not know the extent of Kerr’s injury until 9:30 p.m. local time Wednesday. He asked for understanding on the decision to not reveal that information sooner, explaining that the team didn’t give “too much” away to Ireland.
“Once we came to the stadium, we didn’t play any type of mind games, we just were honest with the team sheet,” he said. “She wasn’t in the starting lineup. We went out with the news saying she’s injured, she couldn’t play. But we wanted to wait until the last second when we come to the stadium to not give away too much in tournament football.”
He also noted he was proud of the way that his team responded to Kerr’s absence, particularly once she stepped away during training Wednesday.
Kerr undeniably was missed in the Matildas’ opening game, but the team still prevailed thanks to a penalty kick from defender Steph Catley that put the home side up 1-0 – which remained the final score despite a number of late challenges by Ireland.
“My heart really breaks for Sammy. I know she wants to be out there, I know she wants to be a part of these two games,” Australia’s Elise Kellond-Knight said. “Luckily there’s another 22 players on this team. The team isn’t just Sam Kerr. … We’ve got so much depth. If anything, it’s kind of great that we can rest Sam and afford to put her on the sidelines and then look at our other players and create our attacks through those players.”
New Zealand got the upset party going Thursday with its 1-0 victory over Norway – the first World Cup win for a New Zealand team, men’s or women’s. Hannah Wilkinson provided the lone goal of the match, a beautiful strike that electrified the crowd of 42,137 fans in attendance.
New Zealand had never won or even hosted a Women’s World Cup match…Today they upset Norway IN New Zealand with a crowd of 42,137 fans, the largest soccer crowd the nation has ever seen 🤯 (via @FOXSoccer, h/t @FOS) pic.twitter.com/jujm6Hi1jT— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) July 20, 2023
New Zealand had never won or even hosted a Women’s World Cup match…Today they upset Norway IN New Zealand with a crowd of 42,137 fans, the largest soccer crowd the nation has ever seen 🤯 (via @FOXSoccer, h/t @FOS) pic.twitter.com/jujm6Hi1jT
Following the win, captain Ali Riley gave an emotional interview, noting that she thought the Football Ferns “deserved” the win.
“I’m so, so proud. We’ve been fighting for this for so long and we had a clear goal, that we wanted to inspire young girls, young people around this country and around the world,” she said. “And I really think we did that tonight. Anything is possible.”
Ali Riley reacting after a historic win for New Zealand, and yes we might have cried a little. 🥺🎥 @FOXSoccerpic.twitter.com/oE7czGzXRc— Attacking Third (@AttackingThird) July 20, 2023
Ali Riley reacting after a historic win for New Zealand, and yes we might have cried a little. 🥺🎥 @FOXSoccerpic.twitter.com/oE7czGzXRc
So far, so good for the host countries, as both New Zealand and Australia prevailed in their opening matches.