New Zealand coach Jitka Klimkova described seeing her team claim the country’s historic first World Cup win — men or women — as “an incredible feeling” on Thursday.
The Women’s World Cup co-hosts defeated former champions Norway 1-0 to open the tournament in front of a near-capacity crowd at Eden Park in Auckland.
“We waited for this moment for such a long time. Hearing our fans behind us was just an unforgettable moment, for me as a coach and for all the players involved,”
“It is an incredible, incredible feeling.”Klimkova said after Hannah Wilkinson scored the only goal of the game.
New Zealand kept Norway’s former Ballon d’Or-winning striker Ada Hegerberg quiet and could have won by more, but Ria Percival hit the bar with a 90th-minute penalty.
The match was watched by over 42,000 fans, a national record crowd for football in the country.
New Zealand had failed to win any of their 15 previous Women’s World Cup matches across five appearances at the tournament.
Their male counterparts have never won in six matches at World Cups.
Captain Ali Riley struggled to hide her emotion at the end.
Riley, as well as Percival and unused substitute Annalie Longo, is appearing at her fifth World Cup.
“I knew it means so much for them but seeing them having tears in their eyes and enjoying it in front of their families and friends and fans, (is an) incredible moment for me as a coach,”Klimkova added.
Klimkova, who is from the Czech Republic and became coach of the Football Ferns in 2021, was also full of praise for match-winner Wilkinson.
“I always believed in Hannah Wilkinson’s abilities. We know she is a huge threat in the box. She was working really hard for this moment.”
The 31-year-old Melbourne City striker had already scored at the 2011 and 2015 World Cups, the latter goal being the last by a New Zealander at the tournament.
The game was played on an emotional day in Auckland after New Zealand’s largest city was shaken by a deadly shooting early in the morning, close to the hotels of several World Cup teams.
New Zealand’s Prime Minister Chris Hipkins visited the triumphant team in their dressing room after the game.
“He came to the locker room and he was very proud of this team and he was thankful for the performance that he saw,”The coach said.