Striker Cristiana Girelli came off the bench to head home an 87th-minute winner in Italy’s Women’s World Cup opener against Argentina.
Girelli replaced midfielder Giulia Dragoni, who at 16 years and 259 days became one of the youngest players in the tournament’s history.
The record belongs to Ifeanyi Chiejine, who was 16 years and 34 days old when she played for Nigeria in 1999.
Azzurri manager Milena Bertolini put her faith in youngster Dragoni, who made his debut for the senior team on July 1, but in the end it was Juventus’ experienced player Girelli who made the difference.
It looked as if Italy would be let down by a gritty defensive display from Argentina before substitute Girelli, who replaced Dragon in the 83rd minute, nodded the winner.
The highly experienced Girelli got on the end of Lisa Boattin’s cross and slotted the ball past Vanina Correa to secure a 1-0 win.
In front of a crowd of 30,889, Italy had earlier seen goals from Arianna Caruso and Valentina Giacinti ruled out for offside.
A sharp contest which involved six bookings was interrupted several times to allow the players to have treatment.
Italy, who included 18-year-old striker Chiara Beccari from the start, travel to Wellington to play Sweden, who are two points clear at the top of Group G, on Saturday (kick-off 08:30 BST).
Argentina’s next game is against South Africa in Dunedin on Friday (01:00 BST).
The young Dragon plays her role
Italy have lost their way since an impressive showing at the 2019 World Cup, which included wins over Australia, Jamaica and China.
They disappointed at Euro 2022 and 13 of Bertolini’s 23 players at this tournament are appearing on the World Cup stage for the first time.
The Italy coach sprung a major surprise ahead of kick-off by naming Dragon in her starting XI – just three weeks after the youngster made her debut for Le Azzurre at the age of 16 years and 236 days.
She has been nicknamed ‘Little Messi’ and played her part in her country’s win with some sure-handed touches, with the teenager finishing the game with a pass accuracy of 86.4%.
As the Dragons started, striker Girelli, defender Elisa Bartoli and midfielder Valentina Cernoia – who have more than 200 caps between them and are appearing in their second World Cup – had to make do with places on the bench.
Girelli made her presence felt as she came off the bench to settle the match and break Argentina’s hearts.
La Albiceleste thought they had earned themselves a crucial point and looked deflated as Girelli struck before Florencia Bonsegundo was denied an equalizer in the closing moments by Francesca Durante.
The hunt for a first World Cup win continues for Argentina, who have lost eight of their 10 matches spanning four editions of the tournament.
- 4by William
- 5it Was
- 16DracoSubstituted forWalkersIN 83′minutes
- 8bunazBooked in 85 minutes
- 18CarusoBooked in 25 minutesSubstituted forflocksIN 58′minutes
- 9HyacinthsSubstituted forCantorIN 74′minutes
- 3The bears
- 19What is this?
- 14MayorgaBooked in 68 minutes
- 3StableBooked in 90 minutes
- 8falfanSubstituted forHippolytusIN 90+2′minutes
- 7NunezSubstituted forRODRIGUEZIN 77′minutes
- 22They are big
- 15the second goodBooked in 76 minutes
- 19LarroquetBooked in 12 minutesSubstituted forGramagliaIN 90+2′minutes
- 23You have
Match ends, Italy 1, Argentina 0.
Second half ends, Italy 1, Argentina 0.
Corner, Italy. Accepted by Vanina Correa.
The attempt was saved. Lisa Boattin (Italy) right footed shot from a difficult angle on the right is saved in the bottom right corner.
Eliana Stábile (Argentina) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Sofia Cantore (Italy) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Eliana Stábile (Argentina).
Foul by Sofia Cantore (Italy).
Estefanía Banini (Argentina) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Hand ball by Paulina Gramaglia (Argentina).
Lost effort. Sofia Cantore (Italy) right footed shot from outside the box misses to the left. Assisted by Chiara Beccari after a fast break.
The attempt was saved. Florencia Bonsegundo (Argentina) right footed shot from outside the box is saved in the center of the goal.
Foul by Sofia Cantore (Italy).
Florencia Bonsegundo (Argentina) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Replacement, Argentina. Paulina Gramaglia replaces Mariana Larroquette.
Replacement, Argentina. Dalila Ippolito replaces Daiana Falfan.
Francesca Durante (Italy) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Aldana Cometti (Argentina).
Foul by Cristiana Girelli (Italy).
Daiana Falfán (Argentina) wins a free kick in the defensive half.