DUNEDIN, New Zealand — Stefanie van der Gragt scored on a header in the 13th minute, leading the Netherlands to a 1-0 win over Portugal at the Women’s World Cup on Sunday as the 2019 finalists began their tournament run.
The Dutch defender gathered herself as teammate Sherida Spitse lofted a corner kick her way, then headed the ball across the goal into the far side of the net. An offside review delayed the celebration.
The goal by the 30-year-old van der Gragt, who plans to retire after the Women's World Cup, was the quickest first goal of the tournament. The Dutch controlled the tempo of the game — Portugal’s first shot of the match didn’t come until the 82nd minute.
The meeting with the Netherlands, ranked No. 9 in the world, marked Portugal’s first-ever tournament appearance.
On hand were 11,991 spectators, who were sheltered from the rain inside Dunedin’s covered Forsyth Barr Stadium, known as the Glasshouse, which has a capacity of 25,947.
Though most of the crowd appeared to be Dutch fans, a small but vocal group of Portuguese supporters with flags and team apparel banged on drums throughout the game, the beat echoing across the venue.
Van der Gragt’s first-half goal gave the Dutch a lead and allowed them to play lockdown defense. Both teams played a physical game, but Portugal was unable to match the Netherlands’ technical mastery.
WHY IT MATTERS
The Dutch victory raises the stakes for their upcoming rematch with the two-time defending world champion Americans, who beat Netherlands 2-0 in that 2019 final. A winner in that match will gain control of Group E and could very well wrap up a berth in the knockout stage.
Portugal failed to break through and become the first of the eight newcomers in the Women's World Cup to get a win.
IN THEIR OWN WORDS
“It’s an important goal. I’m proud of the team and it’s a good win. The first game is always the important game of the tournament and I think these three points are really good for us.” — Stefanie van der Gragt, Netherlands defender.
“What the Portuguese players did today is of utmost courage, utmost character. To play the vice champions of the world (2019 runners-up), and the Portuguese players managed to break their rhythm. We just need to play more matches and get used to this,” Francisco Neto, Portugal head coach.
Netherlands heads to the Group E showdown against the U.S. on Thursday in Wellington. Portugal faces Vietnam, which didn't get a single shot on goal in its 3-0 loss to the Americans, also on Thursday. That match is in Hamilton, with the loser likely out of contention for the round of 16.
Ellen McIntyre is a student in the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism at Penn State.
AP Women’s World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/fifa-womens-world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports