Ary Borges bagged a hat-trick in Brazil's 4-0 win over Panama (Photo: Thais Magalhães / CBF)

The ninth edition of FIFA’s Women’s World Cup kicked off amongst a fanfare of home support last week, with co-hosts Australia and New Zealand both registering opening game victories in front of record crowds. 

The subsequent seven days have seen plenty of goals and some unexpected results, with this edition of the tournament already showing how far the women’s football has come since its inception in 1991. 

The opening group games of any major tournament are notoriously cagey affairs, but often give us glimpses of what to expect in later rounds. Here’s five things we’ve learnt from the first round of fixtures.

Australia lacks finishing touch without Kerr

Big news came out of Sydney last Thursday evening when Sam Kerr was unexpectedly omitted from the starting line-up. The Matildas talismanic captain was ruled out of their opener against Ireland due to a calf injury.

While vice-captain Steph Catley ably deputised in Kerr’s absence – scoring the only goal with her 52nd minute penalty – it was Kerr’s clinical finishing rather than her leadership skills that the co-hosts missed the most.

Despite dominating possession, Australia struggled to break down a resolute Irish defence, with strikers Caitlin Foord and Mary Fowler failing to register a shot on target in the few openings they were allowed.

With a lack of firepower up front, the Matildas were dependent on long-distance attempts from midfield, with Katrina Gorry particularly prominent. 

Ultimately the Matildas got the job done, despite a nervy last 20 minutes when their back line came under pressure from Ireland’s impressive corner deliveries. 

Already ruled out of the game against Nigeria, Australia will be praying Kerr’s injury absence won’t be a long one, as her poise in front of goal may prove crucial later in the tournament.   

The Germans mean business

Two-time World Cup winners Germany had no problem in front of goal in their opening game, putting six past Morocco in the most lopsided game of the tournament to date. 

The Germans clearly wanted to avenge last year’s heart-breaking extra time loss to England in the final of last year’s European Championships, doing so with a clinical display in Melbourne.

Captain Alexandra Popp set the tone with two headed goals in the first half, an asset likely to be a threat as the tournament progresses.

The world’s second ranked team had injury problems of their own before kick-off, with experienced defender Marina Hegering and star midfielder Lena Oberdorf both failing to make the starting line-up.

They were hardly missed, and although they will face tougher challenges ahead, watch out for the Germans in the next few weeks. 

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Brazil’s Ary Borges is the new South American star

Much of the pre-tournament build up around the Brazilians centred on their iconic forward Marta, who is appearing in a record sixth World Cup, but it was 23-year-old Ary Borges who stole the limelight in the South American’s opener against Panama.

Her World Cup debut was one to remember, with her three goals taking her international tally to 10 in 30 appearances during a scintillating performance in Adelaide. Borges added icing on the cake with sublime backheel assist for one of the goals of the tournament so far. 

It’s fair to say that Panama gave the Racing Louisville star much more space in forward areas than the higher-ranked teams are likely to afford her, but Ary Borges has well and truly announced herself on the world stage. 

The gap is slowly closing

When FIFA announced they would be expanding the number of teams in the 2023 Women’s World Cup from 24 to 32, eyebrows were raised. 

However, any questions on the gap between the established nations and minnows being too large to justify such an expansion have been largely answered in the last seven days.

Nigeria made a mockery of their world ranking (42) by holding Canada (7) to a goalless draw in the opening days, and this was swiftly followed by Jamaica (43) equalling the feat against France (5). 

Co-hosts New Zealand’s win over a Norwegian team ranked 13 places above them was perhaps more expected given home advantage, but the Football Ferns then succumbed to 49th ranked Philippines in their second game.

If any further evidence was needed, Haiti provided a spirited performance against England. The fourth ranked Lionesses although laboured to a slightly fortunate 1-0 victory against world’s 53rd ranked team during a nervy opener in Brisbane.

More shocks are sure to follow if the events of the first week are a guide. 

ANZ crowds are embracing the tournament

The first football World Cup in Oceania has been well and truly embraced by the sport-loving host nations, with attendance records being smashed across the board. 

The 75,784 fans who packed Sydney’s Stadium Australia formed the Matildas biggest crowd in history, and nearly 18,000 more than watched any game in the previous World Cup in France. 

The Kiwis got in on the act in their opening fixture, with the 42,137 in attendance being the biggest crowd for a football match in NZ history. 

Perhaps even more significantly, both England and USA’s opening fixtures attracted over 40,000 fans in Brisbane and Auckland respectively, higher than 90% of the games at France 2019. 

More attendance records seem certain to fall in the next three weeks, especially if Australia and New Zealand progress to the knockout stages.  

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