FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023: Italy 1 – 0 Argentina. Striker Cristiana Girelli came off the bench to head an 87th-minute winner in Italy’s Women’s World Cup opener against Argentina.
It looked as though Italy were going to be frustrated in Auckland by a gritty defensive performance from Argentina before substitute Girelli came good to earn the 1-0 victory.
The experienced Juventus attacker had replaced Giulia Dragoni in the 83rd minute, taking over from the midfielder who at the age of 16 years and 259 days became one of the youngest players in the tournament’s history.
“Cristiana is a leader, a captain of this group,” said Italy manager Milena Bertolini of the match-winner. “She is always there and we know what she can give.
“We are very happy. We know how important it is to start such a tournament well.”
Bertolini had no hesitation in giving a start to youngster Dragoni who only made her debut for the senior side on 1 July, but ultimately it was the 33-year-old Girelli who made the difference.
“Giulia is a talent of Italian football,” said Bertolini of the teenager. “She was ready and she did well playing in a big stadium. If they are here, it is because they deserve it.”
Come the crunch moment of an often tetchy game, Girelli got on the end of Lisa Boattin’s cross and looped the ball over Vanina Correa.
In front of a crowd of 30,889 spectators, Italy had earlier seen goals by Arianna Caruso and Valentina Giacinti ruled out for offside.
Italy also included 18-year-old forward Chiara Beccari from the start. They go to Wellington next to play Sweden, who also have three points in Group G, on Saturday (kick-off 08:30 BST).
Argentina’s next match is against South Africa in Dunedin on Friday (01:00 BST).
Italy have lost their way since an impressive showing at the 2019 World Cup which included wins over Australia, Jamaica and China.
They disappointed at Euro 2022 and 13 of Bertolini’s 23 players at this tournament are appearing on the World Cup stage for the first time.
The Italy boss produced a major surprise before kick-off by naming Dragoni in her starting XI – just three weeks after the youngster made her debut for Le Azzurre aged 16 years and 236 days.
She has been nicknamed ‘Little Messi’ and played her part in her country’s win with some confident touches, with the teenager finishing the match with an 86.4% passing accuracy.
The record for the youngest player to feature at a Women’s World Cup belongs to Ifeanyi Chiejine, who was 16 years and 34 days when she played for Nigeria in 1999.
While Dragoni started, forward Girelli, defender Elisa Bartoli and midfielder Valentina Cernoia – who have more than 200 caps between them and are appearing at their second World Cup – had to make do with seats on the bench.
Girelli made her presence felt after climbing off the bench to settle the match and break Argentina’s hearts.
La Albiceleste thought they had earned themselves a crucial point and looked crestfallen when Girelli struck, and there was more anguish to come when Florencia Bonsegundo was denied an equaliser in the closing moments by Francesca Durante.
The hunt for a first World Cup win goes on for Argentina, who have lost eight of their 10 games spanning four editions of the tournament.
“The result was somewhat unfair. A draw would have been the right score,” said Argentina boss German Portanova.
source – BBC