By Logan Smith
While the knockout stages rage on across Australia and New Zealand, down in Dunedin, the southernmost host city, the dust is settling on an enthralling set of Women’s World Cup fixtures.
More than 75,000 ticketholders poured into Dunedin Stadium over the six games hosted in the city, with ten national sides experiencing the journey south.
Main photo: Young fans, many of whom had never been to a football game before, got their chance to experience the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Dunedin. Photo credit: FIFA.
Kicking off in earnest
With hype building in the city, Switzerland were the first side to arrive, being based in Dunedin for the tournament.
Fans young and old got the chance to attend an open training session at Tahuna Park and meet their idols, with young pupils from Tahuna Intermediate performing dances for the team.
On the opening day of the tournament, the FIFA Fan Festival at Dunedin Town Hall came alive, as Bic Runga and DJ Tina Turntables performed before fans were able to witness New Zealand’s history-making 1-0 victory against Norway on the big screen.
Finally, the local action kicked off for real on the Friday night, with the Philippines taking on Switzerland in front of 13,711 people at Dunedin Stadium.
The Philippines saw a passionate local diaspora get behind them as they played their first-ever Women’s World Cup match, while Swiss supporters also turned out in numbers and volume.
Many others enjoyed the 5,000 free tickets given out for the match, with some attending a football match for the first time and others keeping an eye out for Swiss star Alisha Lehmann.
Despite the fervent Filipino support, the Swiss ran out 2-0 winners in a closely-contested game.
A parade, possession and a wild comeback
Sunday welcomed Dunedin’s second match, with hundreds of supporters marching from the FIFA Fan Festival at Dunedin Town Hall to the stadium in a vibrant Orange Fan Parade, despite the rain.
Inside the stadium,11,991 watched as European nations Portugal and the Netherlands faced off.
It was opening day delight for the Dutch in the end, as an early headed goal from Stefanie van der Gragt was enough to seal a 1-0 win in a game dominated by defences.
Japan and Costa Rica were the sides to take the same field the following Wednesday, with an early evening kick-off resulting in a lower turnout of 6,992 attending the game.
Despite this, Japanese fans still brought the noise, banging their drums as their team sought their second tournament win.
And that they did, with spectators treated to a sparkling Japanese performance, as they dominated possession, looked slick on attack and comfortably clinched a 2-0 victory.
A midday kick-off on Friday was not enough to stop a large core of Argentinian fans from making their way to the stadium and, as expected, they created a party atmosphere, singing throughout the game.
But it was South African supporters who got to cheer the first goals, as they went into half-time 1-0 up and doubled the lead in the second half through pacy forward Thembi Kgatlana.
The action wasn’t done for the 8,834 in attendance, as Argentina, buoyed on by their passionate support, scored twice in the last 20 minutes to tie up the game, with both sides desperately searching for a winner but unable to find it.
Fern fever and a Dutch demonstration of power
On Sunday, the match everybody had been waiting for arrived, with New Zealand taking on Switzerland in a do-or-die clash to get through to the Round of 16.
And the home fans certainly showed up for it, with 25,947 of them creating a special atmosphere and breaking the stadium record for a football match in the process.
The red of the Swiss supporters stood out in a stadium full of white and black, who also took the opportunity to vocally support their team.
However, with news flooding in of a big Norwegian lead in the other game, the New Zealand side knew that they now had to win to advance. But despite the efforts of the Football Ferns and the home crowd, it was Switzerland that got what they needed with a 0-0 draw.
Finally, Dunedin’s allocation of Women’s World Cup games came to a close with the Netherlands visiting once again, this time taking on Vietnam on a cold Tuesday night.
With top spot in the group on the line, Dutch fans excitedly entered the stadium hoping for goals, while already-eliminated Vietnam’s proud supporters never stopped cheering their team’s attempts.
It was the Netherlands who got what they wanted, putting on an absolute show for the 8,215 present in a 7-0 win and topping the group.
As the dust settles …
Dunedin’s role in this Women’s World Cup is now finished, but it hopefully has inspired many in the city and the region to play, watch and get involved in football.
Crowds largely impressed and surpassed pre-tournament expectations, with local fans getting to adopt new teams and others getting a rare chance to support their national sides in the flesh.
Facilities at Tahuna Park, Logan Park, Memorial Park and the Caledonian Ground have been upgraded and can now be enjoyed by the local football community.
For Otago’s football fans, new or not, there’s plenty of football to watch as the tournament continues in Auckland, Wellington and in Australia.
Let the football go on!
For the record
Otago sports fans got behind the tournament for the six games hosted by Dunedin, averaging 12,615 spectators per game.
Here are the attendances:
25,947 — New Zealand v Switzerland
13,711 — Philippines v Switzerland
11,991 — Netherlands v Portugal
8,834 — Argentina v South Africa
8,215 — Vietnam v Netherlands
6,992 — Japan v Costa Rica
Logan Smith is a passionate football fan and volunteer, based in Dunedin, covering the Southern League.