Hannah Wilkinson was beside herself with joy when she netted deep into injury time in New Zealand’s final Group B game against Mexico on Tuesday, and not without good reason. Her well-taken volley levelled up a game the Oceania side had seemed destined to lose and gave them their first ever FIFA Women’s World Cup point.
Already out of the competition following defeats to Japan and England, the Football Ferns had only one objective in mind when they took to the field against the Mexicans: to finish on a high note and end their record of having lost every single one of their previous matches in the competition.
Yet with normal time almost up in Sinsheim and El Tri leading 2-0, the New Zealanders looked odds on to end their third world final appearance with their ninth loss in nine games. And then the impossible happened, with Rebecca Smith reducing the deficit in the 90th minute before Wilkinson chested the ball down in the box in the fifth minute of stoppage time and blasted home.
The last-gasp goal triggered jubilant celebrations among the girls in white, who acknowledged the cheers of the crowd by embarking on a lap of honour and then treating them to the Haka, the Maori dance made famous by their rugby-playing compatriots.
“I kind of lost it for a moment,” said the country’s new heroine afterwards. “I didn’t even know how much time was left when I scored my goal.” Coach John Herdman was equally moved: “For us this is like winning the World Cup. It’s amazing. It’s just wonderful for this 19-year-old to come off the bench and convert the last chance in a World Cup match. Not many kids her age will get to experience something like that.”
Young she may be, but the Glenfield Rovers striker is also a proven international, having scored nine goals already in 24 outings for her country. “I saw her for the first time in a training match between a youth team and the senior side,” continued Herdman.
“She really caught my eye. To my mind she was a rough diamond who just need a bit of shaping and polishing. She’s a fighter and she sometimes gets frustrated at not playing more. After what she’s just done, though, I think that frustration will have totally gone.”
“I made my debut for the Football Ferns a year ago and this is my first Women’s World Cup goal,” said the goalscorer, whose athletic build contrasts with her shy off-field demeanour. “I can’t put into words what it means to score a goal like this.”
Scoring in a major competition is nothing new to the girl from Whangarei, a little village north of Auckland. Wilkinson struck New Zealand’s solitary goal in the 2-1 defeat to Sweden at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Germany 2010, and scored the small matter of seven goals in five qualifying games to help propel the senior side to Germany 2011.
“I’m studying Psychology at Auckland University and I’m also an amateur with my club team,” continued the Kiwi saviour, describing her life away from the national side. Her hobbies also include playing the guitar and surfing, an appropriate pursuit for a player currently riding the biggest wave of her promising career.