After a thrilling month of action, we review the 20 most unforgettable moments from a record-breaking Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
New Zealand’s emotional win
The opening match of the tournament was a sign of things to come. On an emotional day in New Zealand, the co-host opened the competition with an upset victory over perennial powerhouse Norway, giving the Football Ferns their first-ever World Cup win. Captain Ali Riley, tears of joy streaming down her face, delivered a raw and moving post-match interview following the unexpected triumph. “We had a clear goal that we wanted to inspire young girls, young people around this country and around the world,” she said. “And I really think we did that tonight. Anything is possible!” Indeed.
Record crowd for Australia’s opener
This World Cup, the first edition with 32 competing nations, has truly felt like a transformational moment for women’s soccer. It was evident right from the beginning, too, when 75,784 zealous fans packed Stadium Australia to watch the Matildas begin their tournament with a 1-0 win over Ireland despite the injury-induced absence of superstar and tournament poster athlete Sam Kerr. The event has smashed ticket sale and attendance records every step of the way as interest and enthusiasm continues to explode, with Aussies, in particular, turning out in droves to watch the matches.
Teammates, foes, friends
Club teammates Lindsey Horan and Danielle van de Donk became adversaries when the United States and the Netherlands locked horns for an absorbing group-stage encounter, as the feisty midfielders exchanged words after a heavy tackle from the Dutch star left the American captain incensed. After the heated conversation, Horan, clearly fired up, immediately scored with a thunderous header. It was a captivating sequence. All was forgiven after the contest, of course, as Horan and Van de Donk hugged it out, laughed about the whole thing, and grabbed a selfie to commemorate the occasion.
Caicedo, Colombia take down Germany
Linda Caicedo is, quite simply, one of the most enthralling footballers to watch on the planet. The Colombian phenom, 18, arrived at the World Cup with the pressure of leading a burgeoning side to new heights. She delivered. Caicedo, a cancer survivor who’s been open about her desire to inspire others through football, took the event by storm with her trickery, explosiveness, and ability to break a match open at any time. The joy she plays with was infectious, and it was punctuated when she scored one of the best goals of the tournament in Colombia’s 2-1 upset win over Germany in the group stage.
Australia 4, Canada 0
Australia and Canada entered their final match of the group stage with elimination a very real possibility. Only the Aussies seemed to understand the weight of the task at hand. The co-hosts scored three times in the opening hour to surge into an unassailable lead and scored a fourth from the penalty spot to condemn Canada to its earliest exit from the Women’s World Cup since 2011. The loss all but ended Christine Sinclair’s last shot at a World Cup title and any momentum the program had after winning gold at the Tokyo Olympics.
Saved by the post
The United States came this close to suffering what would’ve been an inconceivable – and first-ever – exit in the opening round of the World Cup. Portugal’s Ana Capeta struck the post in second-half stoppage time of the teams’ group-stage finale, coming within inches of a shocking goal that would’ve reverberated throughout world soccer, especially for the U.S. fans who would’ve awoken to the surprise after the overnight kickoff. “I’ll be honest with you, when Ana (shot), I was thinking it will be a goal,” Portugal coach Francisco Neto said. Literal inches away.
South Africa at the buzzer!
This was the World Cup of upsets. South Africa’s last-second victory to eliminate Italy – and give the African nation its first-ever Women’s World Cup triumph – was dramatic as any. Thembi Kgatlana, who revealed that she lost three family members prior to South Africa’s must-win group-stage finale, scored an emotional decider in the 92nd minute for the Banyana Banyana. “I could have gone home, but I chose to stay with my girls because that’s how much it means,” she explained. In the face of adversity, Kgatlana persevered to deliver an unforgettable moment for her team and country.
Jamaica sends Brazil home
Before holding France to a goalless draw and eliminating Brazil from knockout-round contention, Jamaica wasn’t even sure it would have enough money to make the trip to Australia and New Zealand. Players said the soccer federation hadn’t paid them the money their contracts had guaranteed them, and they lost valuable training time as a result of budget cuts. A pair of GoFundMe fundraisers helped raise nearly $100,000, the proceeds of which helped facilitate Jamaica’s historic World Cup run, which culminated in a draw with Brazil that sent one of the most celebrated soccer nations home.
Marta passes the torch
When Marta began her career in 2003, she said she didn’t have a “female idol.” So she set out to become one herself. Though she had little impact in her sixth and final World Cup, which ended in massive disappointment for a national team so used to success, the Brazilian great left the stage knowing she helped the next generation of players come through. “The Brazilian people ask for renewal, and there is renewal,” Marta said. “The only old one is me. Most of (my teammates) are young girls with enormous talent. It’s just the beginning for them. I end here, but they continue.”
Morocco soars, Germany crashes out
Entering the tournament as the second-lowest-ranked team, Morocco advanced to the knockout stage in the most incredible circumstances. After losing 6-0 to Germany in the opening round of the group stage, Morocco strung together back-to-back 1-0 wins over South Korea and Colombia to eliminate the Germans from the World Cup. Morocco’s breakthrough in the women’s game mirrored the men’s at the World Cup in Qatar, where, just eight months earlier, the North Africans became the first Arab nation to reach the semifinals. Meanwhile, Germany, a two-time Women’s World Cup winner, followed the men by exiting the tournament in the group stage.
Lauren James’ breakout game
England’s World Cup got off to an inauspicious start with a pair of solid but unspectacular 1-0 wins over Haiti and Denmark, respectively. Questions were being asked about the Lionesses’ ability to score goals and make a deep run. Who would step up with so many key players out injured? Enter Lauren James. The Chelsea star lit up the tournament and got England firing again with two goals and three assists in a breathtaking performance against China. James, 21, became the youngest player in World Cup history – men’s or women’s – to have five goal involvements in a single match.
Alozie unfazed by James’ red card
James lost her cool just as she was becoming a household name in England. As the Lionesses’ last-16 encounter with Nigeria ticked toward extra time, the younger sister of Chelsea defender Reece James stepped on Michelle Alozie’s backside, earning her a red card and a two-match suspension. The incident immediately brought to mind David Beckham’s moment of madness during the 1998 World Cup, when the star midfielder was red-carded for kicking out at Diego Simeone. But Alozie handled it all with grace. There were no tantrums on the field, only memes, and she even posted a tweet in James’ defense.
USWNT ousted in dramatic fashion
Megan Rapinoe called it a “sick joke.” Julie Ertz said, “Penalties are the worst.” Alyssa Naeher couldn’t believe the U.S. had “just lost the World Cup by a millimeter.” But it was all true. After playing out a goalless draw with Sweden in the round of 16, the United States fell 5-4 in the ensuing shootout. Rapinoe skied her attempt and could only watch as Lina Hurtig’s match-winning penalty kick crossed the goal line by the width of a hair. Though Naeher saved Hurtig’s initial shot, the rebound bounced up, over, and into the net. Just like that, the U.S.’s hopes of a three-peat vanished.
Epic Australia-France shootout
Cortnee Vine converted the last of the 21 spot-kicks required to decide the epic quarterfinal shootout between Australia and France. By then, the contest had stretched to more than three hours. What it lacked in goals over 120 minutes of play, it more than made up for in drama in the penalties that followed. In a risky move, Solene Durand, France’s backup ‘keeper, replaced her country’s No. 1 shot-stopper as penalties loomed. Australia’s Mackenzie Arnold saved back-to-back attempts after being caught off her line when she saved the first. Then Arnold missed a spot-kick of her own. But Australia prevailed.
‘Lord of the Rings’ fan goes viral
Australia’s World Cup run captivated the entire nation. Aussies watched in record numbers throughout the tournament, both live in the various stadiums and on television. Even in the air while traveling, everyone was tuning in to see the Matildas. Well, almost everyone. The best moment of unintentional comedy from the World Cup came in the form of a viral video showing a full flight of passengers glued to their screens during Australia’s aforementioned victory over France. A lone traveler, blissfully unaware of the stressful shootout, was enjoying “The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King,” while everyone else in the clip watched Vine convert the winning penalty.
Exit … stage left
Sweden coach Peter Gerhardsson provided some respite from the intensity and tension of the World Cup when, after concluding his press conference prior to the Swedes’ semifinal match against Spain, he unwittingly walked into a utility closet before quickly realizing it wasn’t the exit door he was expecting to find. Everyone had a good chuckle, including the coach himself. “If you, as a human being, know everything, it’s not exciting, and that’s why football is so exciting,” a philosophical Gerhardsson told reporters right before the gaffe, according to Steph Yang of The Athletic. No kidding, Peter.
Wild Spain-Sweden finish
For 80 minutes, virtually nothing of note happened. But Spain’s semifinal match against Sweden burst to life with three goals in the final 10 minutes of regular time, with 19-year-old phenom Salma Paralluelo building on her impressive campaign with the opener in the 81st minute. Rebecka Blomqvist responded in the 88th, only for Olga Carmona to hit an absolute banger off the underside of the crossbar 60 seconds later. Carmona’s winner sent Spain to the final, where she’d again score the decisive goal.
Kerr’s stunner lifts a nation
Kerr spent most of the World Cup out injured. But she wouldn’t leave with a whimper. Making her first start of the tournament in Australia’s semifinal loss to England, Kerr scored one of the goals of the tournament, running nearly 40 yards before sending a dipping shot beyond the reach of goalkeeper Mary Earps. In one fell swoop, Kerr showcased the dribbling and stone-cold finishing ability that initially made her the odds-on favorite to win the Golden Boot award as the World Cup’s top scorer.
Earps roars after clutch save
Earps’ massive save on Jenni Hermoso’s 70th-minute penalty gave England hope it could get back into the game. “When Mary saved it, I thought, ‘Now we’re going to score a goal and get to 1-1,'” head coach Sarina Wiegman said, according to The Wall Street Journal’s Joshua Robinson. “But we didn’t.” Still, the save was heard around the world. Earps timed her dive perfectly, stopping herself from encroaching by leaving her trailing foot on the goal line. The feisty 30-year-old then unleashed a barrage of expletives at Spain’s joint-top scorer.
Carmona’s World Cup-winning goal
A goal worthy of winning the World Cup. Spain sucked England into its midfield trap, stole possession, and then, in a flash, exploited the space that Lucy Bronze had vacated to score the only goal of a gripping World Cup final. Within seconds of winning the ball back, the slick-passing Spaniards found flying left-back Carmona in stride. The 23-year-old did the rest, picking out the bottom corner with an inch-perfect strike. The picturesque finish gave Spain a lead it wouldn’t relinquish en route to hoisting the trophy for the first time.