Norway optimistic about World Cup

The Norwegian women’s soccer team aims to bring a medal home from France

women's soccer

Photo: Bjørn S Delebekk / VG
Caroline Graham Hansen hits clockwise in Wolfsburg’s (Germany) last practice before the Champions League final on May 23, 2018. Hansen is a key to Norway’s chances to medal in the upcoming World Cup in France.

Jo Christian Weldingh
Oslo

Norway’s women’s national soccer team enters this year’s World Cup in France as an underdog, a team stripped of its former glory. Norway was one of the best teams of the 1990s and early 2000s, winning the World Cup in 1995 and an Olympic gold medal in 2000.

Much of Norway’s success in those early days of women’s soccer can be explained by the fact that Norway, along with the United States and Germany, was among the first countries to put money and resources into women’s soccer, a move that paid off and inspired other countries to do the same.

Norway’s soccer women haven’t won a World Cup in 25 years. Despite the devastating European championship in 2017, where the team got knocked out in the group stages after three straight losses, there’s renewed optimism in the squad heading into this summer’s World Cup.

The 2017 European Championship ended with three losses, zero goals scored, zero points, and a public argument between the team’s management and this year’s Ballon d’Or winner Ada Hegerberg, which ended with Hegerberg quitting the team indefinitely. Now, the team seems to have turned it around. So much, in fact, that they’re hoping to win a medal.

“Compared to what we did in the last championship, it might seem like we’re aiming a bit too high,” veteran goalkeeper Ingrid Hjelmseth told Dagbladet. “If we don’t aim high, we’ll never improve.”

To win a medal, they first must get past the Group A stage. In addition to World Cup host France, which is ranked fourth in the world, the Norwegians will face off against 14th-ranked South Korea and 38th-ranked Nigeria in one of the toughest groups of the championship. Nigeria, like Norway, has played in all seven World Cup competitions.

Four years ago, Norway got knocked out by England in the round of 16 after advancing from a group consisting of much weaker teams than the teams it will face this year.

Coach Martin Sjögren was cautiously optimistic when NRK interviewed him just after the draw back in December of last year.

“It’s a challenging group,” he said. “We could have gotten an easier group, but we need to rise to the challenge. We can’t let it affect us; we must be prepared.”

The initial group isn’t the worst thing on Norway’s path to a potential medal. If the squad manages to reach the round of 16, they will meet either second-ranked Germany, 10th-ranked Brazil, or sixth-ranked Australia, all very good teams.

“If we’re lucky, I think it’s realistic to aim for a medal,” striker Guro Reiten said to Dagbladet, with a grin on her face.

Norway’s squad is not made of superstars, especially after Hegerberg’s exit, but some quality players on the team might be able to tip the scale in Norway’s favor.

One is Wolfsburg’s (Germany) Caroline Graham Hansen. She’s only 24 , and already one of the best midfielders in the world. She scored 12 goals in 27 appearances this season from her midfield position and has been so good that there are rumors about a possible transfer to FC Barcelona.

Another player to look out for is striker Reiten. The 24-year-old from Sunndalsøra scored 21 league goals in 22 appearances for LSK Kvinner last season and was one of the biggest contributors when her team advanced to the quarter-final in the Champions League.

If Hansen and Reiten play up to their full potential and fortune favors the Norwegian women, Norway might have a chance to bring home a World Cup medal.

Norway will open against Nigeria, June 8, in Reims (9 p.m. Central European Summer time), then the showdown against host France, June 12, in Nice (9 p.m.), before ending the group against South Korea, June 17, in Reims (9 p.m.)

Nigeria, which won the CAF Women’s Africa Cup of Nations for the ninth straight year to qualify, features striker Asisat Oshoala, who won the 2014 Adidas Golden Ball and Golden Boot awards, and Best African Player in 2014, 2016, and 2017. France is led by talented goal scorer Amadine Henry, a star with Lyon. Star playmaker Ji So-yun, who earned her first cap at 15, paces South Korea, which finished fifth in AFC Asia Women’s Cup to qualify for France.

See also www.norwegianamerican.com/sports/world-cup-preview.

Visit the official website for the 2019 Women’s Soccer World Cup at www.fifa.com/womensworldcup.

This article originally appeared in the May 31, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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