Saturday, July 13, 2024

FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023: New Zealand shooting rattles teams hours before curtain raiser

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Women’s World Cup squads in Auckland were shocked but safe after a deadly shooting near several team hotels overshadowed the opening day of the tournament Thursday.

The incident, which left two victims and the gunman dead, occurred close to the hotels of reigning champions the United States, as well as the Philippines and Norway — who play co-hosts New Zealand later in the day in the city.

Norway captain Maren Mjelde said the team — staying just 300-400 metres (1,000-1,300 feet) from a building site where the shooting took place — were woken by a helicopter and “a large number of emergency vehicles”.

“At first we didn’t know what was going on, but eventually there were updates on TV and the local media,” she said in a statement hours before the 0700 GMT kickoff.

“Everyone seems calm and we are preparing as normal for the game tonight,” she added.

FIFA said in a statement that it had been “in constant contact with the participating teams affected by this incident”.

“The participating teams in close proximity to this incident are being supported in relation to any impact that may have taken place,” football’s governing body added.

New Zealand’s government has said there was no broader national security threat and the tournament will go ahead as planned.

History bid

The shooting marred what was supposed to have been a day of celebration marking the start of the first-ever 32-team Women’s World Cup.

The month-long tournament has expanded from 24 teams in France four years ago and is being staged in two different countries for the first time, in nine cities across Australia and New Zealand.

Australia face the Republic of Ireland in the second game of the tournament, also on Thursday, in front of a sell-out crowd of 80,000 in Sydney.

While the Matildas are hoping to go all the way to the final in Sydney on August 20, New Zealand’s ambitions are more modest.

The Football Ferns are hoping to win a World Cup match for the first time at the 16th attempt when they play former champions Norway at Auckland’s Eden Park, following the opening ceremony.

“Our goal is pretty clear. We want to win our first World Cup match. We want to make it out of our group,” captain Ali Riley told reporters on the eve of the Group A game.

Australia are one of the favourites to win the World Cup, and in captain Sam Kerr have one of best players in women’s football.

“We are really confident, but for us, it’s just about the first game,” the Chelsea striker, the unofficial face of the tournament, said.

“Right now, we are playing that game with no other game in mind, so that’s our final at this point.”

Pay gap

Megan Rapinoe’s United States are the favourites to win an unprecedented third consecutive title, and a record-extending fifth overall.

They begin their title defence on Saturday against minnows Vietnam in Auckland with European champions England in action the same day against Haiti in Brisbane.

Women’s football is at an all-time high and the expansion of the World Cup has come with greatly increased prize money.

The total pot provided by FIFA, which also covers compensation for clubs releasing players, is up from $50 million in 2019 to a record $152 million.

It is a vast hike on the $15 million in 2015 but still pales in comparison with the $440 million dished out at the 32-team men’s World Cup in Qatar last year.

Earlier this week, the Australian team urged FIFA to help close international football’s gender pay gap.


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