FIFA Women's World Cup
'We deserved it': New Zealand captain Ali Riley emotional after long-awaited win
FIFA Women's World Cup

'We deserved it': New Zealand captain Ali Riley emotional after long-awaited win

Updated Jul. 20, 2023 8:41 a.m. ET

AUCKLAND, New Zealand — What did the first World Cup victory in New Zealand's history mean to the women who pulled it off by beating favored Norway, 1-0, in the opening match of the 2023 tournament on home soil?


"It's the best time of my life," captain Ali Riley, who is playing in her fifth World Cup, said after she and her Football Ferns teammates made history. "But I think with the performance, we deserved it."

Despite playing in front of a raucous, partisan crowd of 42,000-plus — more than three times as many supporters as New Zealand's women's squad had ever drawn before — against a Norway side led by former Ballon d'Or winner Ada Hegerberg and ranked 12th to the hosts' No. 26 — Riley is right. The hosts earned their victory. This was no fluke.


"We believed in ourselves the whole time," the 35-year-old added. "It looked like we wanted it more, and that gave us confidence. And we were pushing to score."

"We've been fighting for this for so long!" - Ali Riley on the win

And after a cagey, scoreless first half, the only goal New Zealand would need came early in the second, with striker Hannah Wilkinson finishing a beautiful passing sequence to send the crowd wild. 

After that — or maybe even before — there was a sense that this was finally going to be New Zealand's night after so many missed opportunities over the years on both the men's and women's side: Thursday marked the country's 22nd game at soccer's premier competition, including a record 15-match winless streak for the women.

"There was just belief, belief that we were going to win," Wilkinson said. "We had so many Kiwis to make proud tonight, you know. I think feeling that support all around us, we kind of just knew that this was gonna be it for us. We were gonna get this. We were creating chances and even before we scored, we knew that it was coming. So when you get that kind of energy, it's kind of indescribable."

[World Cup Now: Who was New Zealand's woman of the match vs. Norway?]

It was still hard for some of them to process afterward. 

"It's a very surreal moment," midfielder Betsy Hassett said.

The Ferns certainly didn't need any extra motivation to make history. They got it anyway on the morning of the curtain raiser when a rare fatal shooting occurred in downtown Auckland. A moment of silence was observed before the contest. Flags in the stadium were flown at half-mast. There was suddenly even more incentive to give the locals something to cheer about. That responsibility wasn't lost on the players.

"We put so much pressure on ourselves because it wasn't just about winning a game," Riley said. "This is about inspiring our entire country, and with what happened this morning, trying to do something positive today."

New Zealand vs. Norway highlights

Still, amid the euphoria of the postgame celebrations, there was also the realization that the victory won't have a lasting impact unless they can build on it. New Zealand faces the Philippines in its next match before closing out the group stage against Switzerland.

"We did inspire the nation tonight, but we know the impact will be bigger and better if we can get another three points and another three points," Riley said. "We want to get out of this group. So of course we're celebrating, but I've already been in the ice bath, had my protein. The players are all recovering because we have to be able to back it up.

"We have to win the next game."

New Zealands' historic win over Norway reminds Jimmy Conrad of Saudi Arabia's win over Argentina in 2022 World Cup

Doug McIntyre is a soccer writer for FOX Sports. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports and he has covered United States men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.

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