Co-hosts New Zealand kick off their Women’s World Cup campaign in Auckland at 8am UK time on Thursday 20 July with a tough assignment against former winners Norway.
New Zealand’s five previous World Cups have ended in a group-stage exit, but they look better equipped now to be taking on one of the women’s game’s established superpowers.
It’s the opening game of the tournament, Eden Park is sold out but will class tell or can New Zealand provide the first shock of the competition?
Full-back CJ Bott (hamstring) is still a doubt for New Zealand. Veteran skipper Ali Riley would likely step in if Bott can’t start.
Centre-back Rebekah Stott is expected to have shaken off an illness. There is another worry about Betsy Hassett, who missed the Football Ferns’ final training session. Annalie Longo or Olivia Chance, both short of match practice, are standing by.
The Norwegians have no injury concerns to report.
Norway to win & under 3.5 total goals @ 21/20
New Zealand would dearly love to lay on a show for a packed-out home crowd, but the likelihood is that Norway’s greater experience and quality will add up to opening-day tears rather than cheers for the Ferns.
The Football Ferns have made giant strides in recent years and the fact that they have played 15 matches at World Cups and not won a single one, is now irrelevant.
Under Jitka Klimkova and boasting decent players in the likes of WSL trio CJ Bott, Rebekah Stott and Ria Percival, this is an improving nation.
On the flip side, just look at their results. Since beating the Philippines last September they have played 12 times and managed a solitary win, against Vietnam.
They have played some good sides in that run – they played the United States twice, for example – but those outcomes demonstrate there is still a sizeable gulf between them and the best.
Norway may not be quite among the real elite any more – the 1995 world champions are rated 12th by Fifa – but they boast quality across the pitch, are far more durable and obdurate under Hege Riise, and they can win this unfussily in a match featuring under 3.5 goals.
Caroline Graham Hansen to score anytime @ 13/10
Norway are delighted to have a fully-fit Ada Hegerberg back and playing well, though arguably their bigger threat in and around the box is Caroline Graham Hansen.
The Barcelona star will reach the 100-cap milestone during these finals but more important to her and her team than that landmark will be the odd goal, the first of which could well come against the hosts.
Hansen is 13/10 to find the net at Eden Park and, against a defence as vulnerable as New Zealand’s, her clever positioning and unchecked darts in and around the box are going to make her a huge threat.
She scored seven goals in her last eight games of the season so arrived down under high on confidence.