Australia, a sports-mad nation with a long tradition of champions in other sports, has never been past the round of 16 at the Women’s World Cup. New Zealand, a rugby nation accustomed to life on the fringes of the biggest events in sports, has never won a game in the tournament.
But two years of planning and preparations will end for both nations on Thursday when they play their opening matches on women’s soccer’s biggest stage.
Australia, which faces Ireland in Sydney, arrives feeling this might, at last, be the year it pushes through into the sport’s elite. New Zealand, which opens against Norway in Auckland in the tournament’s first game, has more modest ambitions. But it was conceding nothing this week.
“We’re always seen as the underdogs,” the New Zealand co-captain Ria Percival said on Wednesday. “And for us, we’ve always taken it in our stride and we’ll do exactly the same with the first game tomorrow. We’re just excited to be here, we’re ready to go.”