Cristiana Girelli said she would be happy to keep playing the role of super sub after scoring an 87th-minute winner as Italy beat Argentina 1-0 in a feisty encounter at the Women’s World Cup on Monday.
It looked like Italy would have to settle for a draw in their Group G opener at Eden Park 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.
Italy then held on for victory in a game that featured six bookings — four for Argentina — and 37 fouls.
“I am really happy for me and my teammates because we deserved the victory,” said Girelli, who scored a hat-trick against Jamaica at the 2019 World Cup.
“To win in that way, even though we had to suffer, is important,” added the 33-year-old, surely now a contender to start the next match against Sweden even if she had no complaints about being an impact substitute.
“If all the games are like this then there is no problem,” she said.
“Honestly, obviously every player wants to play 90 minutes, but I will settle for every game being like that. The main thing was the victory.”
Argentina coach German Portanova felt the result was harsh on his side, who have still never 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.”
– Frustration –
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 in France in 2019, 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.
Italy’s starting line-up featured teenage Barcelona prospect Dragoni as well as 18-year-old Chiara Beccari.
It looked set to be a frustrating evening for them 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 entered the fray in the 83rd minute and moments later she got up above Stabile to score with a header from Lisa Boattin’s left-wing cross.
At the other end, Durante made another important save in stoppage time to keep out a free-kick by Florencia Bonsegundo.