This article is part of the Guardian’s 2019 Women’s World Cup Experts’ Network, a cooperation between some of the best media organizations from the 24 countries who have qualified for France. The Equalizer, as part of the network, will profile each of the 24 countries.
Martin Sjögren’s first major tournament with the Norwegian team turned out to be an utter fiasco. There were big expectations for the team in the Euros in 2017, which included the star player, Ada Hegerberg, but the team had to return to Norway after failing to score a single goal in the group stage. What followed was even more dramatic as Hegerberg chose to take a break from the national team. She later said that she could not be herself with the national team, as she felt she was placed in a system that did not fit her.
However, other players have since stepped up to the plate to take responsibility in her absence and Sjögren did an impressive job with the team as they qualified for the World Cup after beating the 2017 Euro winners Netherlands in the decisive qualifier in Oslo.
The Swedish manager is likely to go with a 4-4-2 formation in the World Cup. He has spent a lot of time trying to improve the defensive structure of the team, and the two Chelsea players, Maren Mjelde and Maria Thorisdottir, are likely to play an important part in the heart of the defence. In midfield, Caroline Graham Hansen (FC Barcelona) is, at her best, a tremendous force while the striker Isabell Herlovsen (Kolbotn) is a constant goal threat. She had, by mid-May, scored 57 goals for the national team.
In Hegerberg’s absence, the responsibility of scoring falls on Herlovsen. The 30-year-old has played for Hegerberg’s current club Lyon, but has spent most of her career in the Norwegian Toppeserien, apart from a few months in Chinese football. The striker, who is currently on loan from Vålerenga to Kolbotn, scored the winner in the decider against Netherlands and she could be the key going forward in the World Cup because of her finishing skills and her incredible positional sense in crucial moments.
The young midfielder Ingrid Syrstad Engen (LSK Kvinner) has made huge strides for the national team recently and she could be handed an important role in the World Cup despite a lack of international experience. Engen is one of several young players who have not yet peaked while at the other end of the spectrum there is the goalkeeper, Ingrid Hjelmseth, who at 39 gives the squad so much in terms of experience.
In the end, Norway’s chances at the World Cup are likely to depend on how their defense does. Kristine Minde (Wolfsburg) and Ingrid Moe Wold (LSK Kvinner) are likely to be the fullbacks, but the fitness of Thorisdottir is a concern as she has been out for a long period of this season.
Martin Sjögren’s appointment in December 2016 was a surprise. The sympathetic Swede had taken Linköping to the league title in his home country and now seems to have recovered after a horrible start in charge of Norway.
Caroline Graham Hansen, without a doubt. FC Barcelona’s new star player, who in May moved there from Wolfsburg, will be extremely important for the national team this summer. The 24-year-old winger is a complete footballer with pace, dribbling skills and the ability to create goals out of nowhere.
Did you know?
In her younger days, Guro Reiten had some – let us call it unorthodox – pets. In addition to more common fish in her aquarium, there were also three pet shrimp in it.
Brief history of women’s football in Norway
The interest of female football in Norway has grown in recent years, but that hasn’t always been the case. One of the first women’s matches in Norway was played in 1928, with the famous Sonja Hennie as the main attraction, but it was a strange set-up with the final of the tournament being decided on style points rather than goals scored. The Norwegian Football Federation (NFF) first acknowledged women’s national football in 1976 and the first national team was established two years later with Per Pettersen becoming Norway’s first manager. The first ever win for the women’s national side came against Northern Ireland and the first major achievement came in 1987, when they won the European Championships after beating Sweden in the final.
Eight years later, Norway won the World Cup in Sweden, beating Germany in the final. They followed that up with Olympic Gold in Sydney in 2000 as the U.S. was defeated by a Golden Goal from Dagny Mellgren in the 102nd minute. Since then, Germany have become the team’s nemesis, beating Norway in two European Championship semifinals, in 2001 and 2009, and, even worse, in the 2005 Euros final.
Which player is going to surprise everyone at the World Cup?
Guro Reiten. The 24-year-old has a majestic left foot and the technique to score from distance. The midfielder has been superb for LSK so far this season and has the capacity to elevate her game even further this summer. Several big clubs will be looking at Reiten in France and she may well leave LSK Kvinner after the summer.
What is the realistic aim for Norway in France and why?
The clear – and ambitious – aim is to win a medal at the World Cup. The team ended up in a tough qualifying group, but showed strength by beating Netherlands in the decisive qualifier last September. Sjögren’s players should have a good chance of advancing from the group stage – where they were paired with France, South Korea and Nigeria – and the qaurterfinals or semifinals should be within their reach. They have experience, but in terms of quality, they are probably just a bit behind the best teams.
Annual budget for the women’s national team (compared to men’s):
The women’s budget this year is actually higher — 14.8m Norwegian kroner ($1.69M) — than the men’s (12.4m NOK) because it is a World Cup year. This, however, does not include the salaries for the two coaches with the men’s coach, Lars Lagerbäck, earning far more than his fellow Swede, Sjögren. Interestingly – and impressively – the women earn as much as the men (6.8m NOK per year) after the men took a pay-cut in 2017.
Registered female players:
According to the Norwegian Football Federation, there are 96,107 registered female players (13 years or older) in Norway.
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