AUCKLAND, New Zealand (AP) — In the space of some four minutes, Cristiana Girelli made history.
Girelli became the first Italian to score in two Women’s World Cups with her goal in the 87th minute that gave Italy a 1-0 win in its tournament opener against Argentina on Monday night.
“There’s nothing special, it’s just that I did my duty,” Girelli said. “I did my best. I was really willing to help my teammates.”
Italy put the ball in the back of the net twice in the opening half but both times were offside, before Girelli’s breakthrough header. Girelli came into the match as a substitute in the 83rd minute.
The Italians have never dropped an opening match at the World Cup. But this time they faced tenacious Argentina, eager for its first-ever win in the tournament. Going into the World Cup, La Albiceleste were inspired by their men’s side and star Lionel Messi, who brought home the World Cup trophy from Qatar late last year.
“We will try to leave this game behind us, learn from what happened, and continue reinforcing the positive. Now we need to clear our minds, look at what comes next and take on the group,” Argentina forward Estefania Banini said.
Italy has had more success on the big stage, advancing to the World Cup quarterfinals in 2019 after a 2-0 round of 16 victory over China. The Italians were stopped by the Netherlands, which went on to lose to the United States in the final.
Argentina had a boisterous section of fans — including a drum corps — at the match at Eden Park. The crowd at the match was announced at 30,889.
Argentina’s women returned to the World Cup four years ago in France after a 12-year absence and had a tough time: after a draw with Japan and a loss to England, the team played to a tie with Scotland — but couldn’t collect enough points to advance out of the group.
“We couldn’t really manage to get a positive result, but my players gave it their all. Yes, they gave it their all and they know this. I told them this,” Argentina coach German Portanova. “We took the field with a certain mindset, but we couldn’t do it for the 90 minutes.”
Arianna Caruso, who plays professionally for Juventus, appeared to score from distance in the 15th minute but Italy was quickly ruled offside. The 23-year old was the youngest woman to reach 100 appearances with Juventus.
A midfielder, she was one of Italy’s most dangerous players early in the match. But she was handed a yellow card in the 25th minute and was subbed off in the 58th minute.
Italy was offside again on Valentina Giacinti’s attempted goal late in the half.
Italy goalkeeper Lara Esponda held Argentina at bay on a dangerous free kick in the 73rd.
Italy started 16-year-old Giulia Dragoni at midfield and the Barcelona player nicknamed “Little Messi” is the second-youngest European to play at the tournament. Dragoni wears No. 16 to correspond with her age.
She was replaced by Girelli, at 33 the oldest player in the Azzurre squad, in the 83rd minute. Girelli’s goal was the 54th of her international career.
Girelli, who also play for Juventus, changed the tone of the match almost immediately when she subbed in.
“It was amazing, because, yes, we were looking for the goal for all the second half. We were trying. I think we played a good match in the second half and fortunately Cristiana put her head on the ball and scored,” said Italy’s captain Barbara Bonansea.
Sweden defeated South Africa 2-1 on Sunday to kick off Group G play at the tournament, co-hosted by New Zealand and Australia. Sweden now sits atop the group with a pair of goals compared to Italy’s one.
Group G plays all of its matches in New Zealand. Argentina next faces South Africa on Friday in Dunedin, while Italy plays Sweden in Wellington on Saturday.
More AP Women’s World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/fifa-womens-world-cup