Norway’s women qualify for the World Cup again
Eighth time the charm
Jo Christian Weldingh
Six magic minutes was all the Norwegian soccer women needed. Norway qualified for its eighth consecutive World Cup.
Heading into their last qualifying match against defending European champion the Netherlands, Sept. 4, the Norwegian soccer women had to win to qualify directly to the World Cup in France next year. The Netherlands, on the other hand, only needed a draw in what was expected to be a tough and even match.
The match started in the best way possible for the Norwegians. The spectators had just sat down in the sunshine at Intility Arena in Oslo when Ingrid Syrstad Engen put Norway in the lead. A perfect corner kick found Maren Mjelde, who missed her shot, but the ball ended up in front of 20-year-old Engen, who had no problem finding the back of the net. 1-0.
“We didn’t quite get it at first, but suddenly we had a great start to the match. We had to score, so of course it was important, and it means a lot to me, being young, to play in the World Cup,” the young goal scorer said to VG.
Engen scored after only four minutes of play. Less than two minutes later, Isabell Herlovsen was played through beautifully by Lisa-Marie Utland. Herlovsen, who also plays her home games for Lillestrøm at Intility Arena, was able to place herself in front of the Dutch defender and shoot directly with her left foot. Norway 2, The Netherlands 0.
This was only Herlovsen’s second goal in the qualifying rounds and her first in 265 minutes.
“I think I’m a player for the big, important matches, and I proved that today, but first and foremost this comes because of an amazing team effort, and I’m proud of the girls,” she told the press after the game.
After Herlovsen’s goal, the Netherlands took control, and for Norway, it quickly became a matter of defending their lead. The Dutch women scored a goal after 18 minutes and continued to dominate the rest of the match. Only a great game by the Norwegian defense, especially Maria Thorisdottir and keeper Ingrid Hjelmseth, was able to prevent any more Dutch goals.
“We were a great team today,” Thorisdottir told the press. “We have been heavily criticized, but today we were able to play a great game.”
Despite spending most of the game on defense, coach Martin Sjögren was satisfied.
“We’re a better team now than we were in the European Championship last year,” he said. “It feels good when everything falls into place and we work like a unit. I liked seeing that today.”
The tears of sadness from last year’s European Championship has become tears of joy. Only 13 months ago, the Norwegian soccer women lay on the grass crying in Deventer, after falling 1-0 against Denmark in the last of three consecutive losses in the opening rounds of the European Championship.
The championship was followed by the team’s biggest star Ada Hegerberg, seen as one of the best strikers in the world, quitting the national team because of differences with Sjögren.
The failure was complete, and everything was dark.
Nine out of the 11 who beat the Netherlands were also a part of that team last year. Together, they have stood up against criticism, and maybe taken a tiny bit of revenge.
“This is huge,” Terje Svendsen, president of The Norwegian Soccer Federation, said. “The fact that the girls can win this today is inspiring for everyone involved in Norwegian soccer on any level. It’s a joyous day.”
Jo Christian Weldingh grew up in Lillehammer, Norway, and lives in Oslo. He has a bachelor’s degree in archaeology from the University of Oslo and a bachelor’s degree in business administration from BI Norwegian Business School.
This article originally appeared in the October 5, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.