Australia, a sports-mad nation with a long tradition of champions in other sports, has never made it past the last 16 of a Women’s World Cup. New Zealand, a rugby country accustomed to life on the sidelines of sport’s biggest events, has never won a tournament match.
But two years of planning and preparation will come to an end for both countries on Thursday when they play their opening matches on women’s football’s biggest stage.
Australia, who face Ireland in Sydney, arrive feeling this could, at last, be the year elite sports come into play. New Zealand, who open against Norway in Auckland in the tournament’s first game, have more modest ambitions. But she didn’t give anything away this week.
“We are always seen as the underdogs,” New Zealand captain Rhea Percival said on Wednesday. “And for us, we’ve always taken it at our pace and we’ll do exactly the same with the first game tomorrow. We’re just excited to be here, we’re ready to go.”