DUNEDIN: The Netherlands kicked off their Group E campaign with a 1-0 win over Women's World Cup debutants Portugal at Dunedin Stadium on Sunday, thanks to a first-half goal from Stefanie Van der Gragt that was awarded on a VAR review.
The Dutch edged Portugal 3-2 a year ago in the European Championship group stage, but this time the Iberian side were no match for the team in their trademark orange and did not have a shot on target until the 82nd minute.
The Dutch scored in the 13th minute from a corner when Van der Gragt rose above the defence at the far post to head home, but the flag went up for offside when the lineswoman deemed Jill Roord to be obstructing the goalkeeper.
However, the offside decision for interfering with play was overturned on a VAR review by the referee after she watched a replay on the monitor and the goal stood, sparking a second celebration from the Dutch team.
"We celebrated the goal and then we saw the assistant referee, so we had to wait for the final decision," Van der Gragt told reporters after she was named the player of the match.
"It's always difficult to celebrate a second time but it was good. I'm really happy that we won, that was the most important thing today."
Roord nearly made it 2-0 minutes later when she had a free header in the six-yard box, but the unmarked midfielder headed over the bar to hand Portugal a lifeline.
Portugal, however, failed to muster a shot on goal in the first half while at the other end they thwarted waves of attacks from the Dutch.
The story was the same in the second half when Portuguese keeper Ines Pereira denied Danielle van De Donk with a fine reflex save after some clever passing to set up the midfielder.
"Portugal were really combative. There were moments where we were great and moments where there is room for improvement," Dutch coach Andries Jonker said.
Portugal substitute Telma Encarnacao finally created their best opportunity in the 82nd minute when she charged down the right flank and cut in to shoot, but Dutch keeper Daphne van Domselaar was up to the task and parried her attempt.
"We should have had a reaction after the goal, we had a well-balanced game and structure. But compared to other matches with the Netherlands, they had a lot more possession... This is where we suffered," Portugal coach Francisco Neto said.
"The players showed great character to play the 2019 runners-up. We managed to break their rhythm, we just need to play more matches and get experience."
The Netherlands move level with group leaders United States on three points but sit second on goal difference ahead of Thursday's titanic clash - a repeat of the 2019 final where the Americans won their fourth World Cup crown.
"We're not afraid of America, we respect them, we have no fear," Jonker said, adding that their focus since June had been the opening game against Portugal.
"This was the most important game and now it's time to focus on the United States." — Reuters