Wednesday, August 17

Women’s Euro 2022 team guide No 4: Norway | Women’s Euro 2022


This article is part of the Guardian’s Women’s Euro 2022 Experts’ Network, a cooperation between some of the best media organisations from the 16 countries who have qualified. theguardian.com is running previews from two countries each day in the run-up to the tournament kicking off on 6 July.

Overview

“I might have been called a football romantic by people on the outside,” the national team coach, Martin Sjögren says, “and I must admit that I am attracted to the attacking part of the game. My philosophy is, if you have to categorise it, an attacking one.”

That is in contrast to Norwegian teams of the past – men’s and women’s – and Sjögren’s style of football isdemanding, but also very exciting. In qualifying Norway played only six of their eight games (the last two were cancelled because of the pandemic) but still topped their group, winning all six, scoring 34 goals in the process and conceding one.

Over his five years as the Norway coach, Sjögren has mainly stayed loyal to variations of his 4-4-2 system. At the Algarve Cup last February, the Swede did try out three central defenders in matches against Portugal and Italy, but quickly reverted to a line of four defenders and has stuck to that since. He now feels that he has the flexibility within his squad to make tactical changes throughout matches and during a long tournament.

Sjögren hopes that having the star duo of Caroline Graham Hansen and Ada Hegerberg available up front will mean that Norway do this time what they failed to do in 2017: score goals. He will also be delighted to have the captain Maren Mjelde back in the squad after a long injury absence. The 32-year-old truly is the heart, soul and leader of Norway’s defence.

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There is, however, a big question surrounding the goalkeeper position. With the first choice, Cecilie Fiskerstrand, out with a ruptured ACL the position is now completely open. Guro Pettersen, Aurora Mikalsen and Sunniva Skoglund are all viable options.

As the squad was announced, Sjögren and Mjelde said that the aim was to reach the semis. “We have a championship ahead of us where there are five, six, seven teams that could win,” Sjögren has said. “That is what makes the Euros so special. We’re not in the top three but I would say we’re an outsider behind the biggest nations.”

The coach

Martin Sjögren has been in the position since early 2017 but his tenure got off to a pretty terrible start, with Norway failing to score a single goal at that year’s Euros and then Ada Hegerberg stepping back from international football in September. However, Sjögren and his assistants have done an impressive job in rebuilding the team, creating a good team spirit that helped the team reach the World Cup quarter-finals in 2019. The 45-year-old is a calm, sympathetic and likeable person whose big passion outside football is padel – a cross between tennis and squash.

Star player

Ada Hegerberg is back and she is already making up for lost time. In her first game for Norway after a five-year absence she scored a hat-trick (against Albania in April) and is now ready to strike fear into opposing defences at the Euros. Truly one of the best players in the world, she led Lyon to the Champions League and Division 1 Féminine titles this season and arrives at the Euros in top form. Described by her club and international teammates as a true leader, she has fought back from knee injuries and said upon returning to the squad: “I can’t wait to inspire some new kick-ass kids”.

Wildcard

Manchester City’s Julie Blakstad may not be a new name to fans in England but this summer is the 20-year-old’s first opportunity to show her vast potential to a wider audience. She arrived in England after two years at Rosenborg and has been described as one of the best talents to ever come through in Norway. No pressure then. Often plays as a winger for City but is likely to be deployed as a left-back at the Euros. A quick and clever attack-minded player, Blakstad comes from the small town of Ottestad and loves to spend time outdoors. Upon joining City she said she had just bought a sleeping bag that could cope with temperatures of -20C.

Julie Blakstad attempts an acrobatic shot during Norway’s 2023 World Cup qualifier against Armenia. Photograph: Hakob Berberyan/AP

Probable lineup

Norway women probable lineup

All-time hero

Hege Riise. Crowned world player of the year in 1995, Riise was one of the stars of the Norwegian “golden generation” that won the 1993 Euros, the 1995 World Cup and gold at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. The 52-year-old is still the all-time most capped Norway player with 188 games. After retiring in 2006, she went into coaching and after a successful career in Norway with LSK Kvinner she became England interim coach in 2021 and led Team GB at the Tokyo Olympics, where they were eliminated by Australia at the quarter-final stage. In 2003, Riise was named the best female player of all time by the Norwegian FA.

Women’s football graphic Moving the Goalposts

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Euro history

Euro 2017 may have ended disastrously but Norway have a successful past in the competition. They have qualified for 11 of the 12 official European Championships that have been arranged since 1984, reaching nine semi-finals and playing in no fewer than six finals. The two wins came in 1987 and 1993 while, since the turn of the century, they have lost two finals against Germany: 1-3 in 2005 and 0-1 in 2013.

Realistic aim this summer

The team have a good chance to progress from Group A but are then likely to come up against one of the tournament favourites, Germany or Spain, in the quarter-finals. Anything could happen in a knockout game, but Norway have a challenge on their hands if they are to reach the semi-finals.

Christina Paulos Syversen and Helge Johan Pettersen Kalleklev write for TV2 in Norway. Follow Christina here and Helge Johan here on Twitter.




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