Tournament co-hosts New Zealand Women will kick off the 2023 Women’s World Cup on Thursday when they go up against Norway Women at Eden Park in Auckland.
New Zealand are making their sixth tournament appearance, while their opponents have never missed a Women’s World Cup finals.
After being named as joint tournament hosts in 2020, New Zealand’s three-year wait will finally come to an end on Thursday, and they will be hoping to give their supporters something to cheer about in their group fixtures against Norway, Philippines and Switzerland.
While the Football Ferns will be dreaming about progressing to the knockout rounds, their first priority will be to claim their first-ever win at a World Cup finals.
In their previous five tournament appearances, New Zealand have drawn just three games and lost on 12 occasions, highlighting the significant task that lies in front of them in their next three fixtures.
Their recent form also makes for poor reading, with their last 12 internationals yielding one victory, two draws and eight defeats.
That sole victory took place in one of two warm-up games earlier this month, as goals from Catherine Bott and Jacqueline Hand guided New Zealand to a 2-0 win over Vietnam before they rounded off their World Cup preparations with a narrow 1-0 defeat to Italy.
Norway, meanwhile, will be hoping to give a better account of themselves than they did at last year’s European Championships, where they were eliminated in the group stage after winning just one of their three matches.
Impressively, Norway reached the semi-finals in four of the first five World Cup finals, but they have failed to replicate that success in the last three tournaments.
After suffering a group-stage elimination in 2011 and a last-16 exit in 2015, they managed to progress to the quarter-finals in France four years ago, before they were beaten 3-0 by England.
As the highest-ranked team in the group, Norway will be confident about their chances of reaching the knockout rounds in Hege Riise’s first World Cup as a manager.
If they are to hit the ground running with a victory in their opening game then Norway will need to end a four-game winless run (D2, L2).
Victoria Esson is set to start between the posts for New Zealand and the Rangers goalkeeper is expected to be shielded by the central defensive parking of Rebekah Stott and Katie Bowen.
Tottenham Hotspur’s Ria Percival missed the majority of the season through injury, but New Zealand’s record appearance holder has recovered in time to feature in a home World Cup.
Hannah Wilkinson scored six goals in 14 A-League appearances for Melbourne City last term, and she is set to lead the line for her country in Thursday’s tournament opener.
As for Norway, Maren Mjelde and Mathilde Harviken are expected to feature in central defence, while Tuva Hansen and Marit Bratberg Lund are set to operate as the two full-backs.
Barcelona winger Caroline Graham Hansen is certain to start on Thursday, and she will be critical to Norway’s attacking efforts due to her ability to drift past defenders and create chances for her side.
Ada Hegerberg will feature up front for Riise’s side, and the Lyon forward will be looking to add to the 43 goals that she has scored for her country.
New Zealand Women possible starting lineup:
Esson; Bott, Stott, Bowen, A Riley; Hassett, Percival, Steinmetz; I Riley, Hand, Wilkinson
Norway Women possible starting lineup:
Mikalsen; Hansen, Mjelde, Harviken, Lund; Boe Risa, Engen; Graham Hansen, Maanum, Reiten; Hegerberg