Cristiana Girelli came off the bench to score an 87th-minute winner over Argentina as Italy began their Women’s World Cup with a 1-0 victory in a feisty encounter at Eden Park on Monday.
It looked like Italy would have to settle for a draw in their Group G opener after Arianna Caruso and Valentina Giacinti both had goals disallowed in the first half.
But Girelli, the Juventus veteran who was Italy’s top scorer in qualifying, came on for 16-year-old Giulia Dragoni near the end and needed just four minutes to make her mark with a superb header.
Argentina coach German Portanova felt it was harsh on his side, who still have not won at a World Cup.
“It was a very even match,” he said. “At times we controlled it and they did not have many opportunities.
“The result was somewhat unfair. A draw would have been the right score.”
The win for Italy in front of almost 31,000 fans in Auckland sets them up perfectly for their next game, against group favourites Sweden in Wellington on Saturday.
Milena Bertolini’s team are hoping to match their performance at the 2019 World Cup in France, when they surprisingly made it to the quarter-finals.
Meanwhile an Argentina team appearing at their fourth World Cup have still to win a game at the finals in 10 attempts. They will hope to break their duck when they play South Africa next.
It looked set to be a frustrating evening for Italy as both Caruso and Giacinti had goals ruled out for offside in the first half.
Argentina might even have gone in front just after the restart when an Eliana Stabile free-kick from wide on the left almost caught out goalkeeper Francesca Durante.
When a Manuela Giugliano free-kick whistled just over at the other end midway through the second half, after captain Barbara Bonansea had been chopped down, it seemed as if the game would end goalless.
But then Girelli, who scored a hat-trick in a 5-0 win over Jamaica at the last World Cup, entered the fray in the 83rd minute.
Moments later the 33-year-old got up above Stabile to score with a header from Lisa Boattin’s left-wing cross.
Italy then held on for the victory, with Durante having to make another important save in stoppage time to keep out a free-kick by Florencia Bonsegundo.