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2023 Women's World Cup

‘Are you in or are you not?’: How a mentality shift saved Norway’s World Cup

Norway was in crisis on the field and in the locker room. Then came a 6-0 victory.

Brendy Nunez / SPP

Reporting from Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand.

Norway entered Sunday’s match against the Philippines at the bottom of Group A. The highest-ranked team in the world in the group had begun the World Cup with a horrible effort in a 1-0 loss to the co-hosts, New Zealand, then followed it up with a scoreless draw against Switzerland that was further marred by the team’s discontent going public.

Sunday, then, was an inflection point for the 12th-ranked team in the world: crash and burn against a World Cup debutant to complete a wretched tournament or come together and respond.

Norway did the latter.

“There’s been a lot going on in our team so far in this tournament – not in a good way,” Norway midfielder Guro Reiten said. “We’ve been talking and discussing like, ‘Are you in or are you not?’ Everyone is in, stick together, let’s show what we’re made of, and I think we did that today.”

Sophie Haug scored a hat trick to lead Norway to a 6-0 victory over the Philippines on Sunday. The victory secured Norway advancement to the next round, a stark turnaround from a miserable start to the tournament.

There were the poor results and performances, of course, but then there was everything else. After the loss to New Zealand, Norway players lamented their team’s inability to solve the opponent despite the Football Ferns playing exactly the way Norway had scouted. Norway’s game against Switzerland brought more drama.

Barcelona star Caroline Graham Hansen was benched for that game and said afterward that she felt like she had been “stepped on” for the past year. She quickly apologized for her emotions getting the better of her, but the issues within the Norway camp were clear. There were Norwegian media reports about player frustrations with head coach Hege Riise.

“We’ve been through this week together,” Riise said after Sunday’s win. “We talked as a team and as individuals. Today, the last couple of days, you could see the energy coming back within the team.”

She continued:  “Caroline [was] performing great both on the left side and the right side today. So, it was relieving for all of us that we came back from a few days that have been hard for all of us.”

Hansen spoke to Norwegian reporters postgame but did not field any questions in English.

Norway captain Maren Mjelde said after the match that the focus now is on the field.

 “There’s been a lot going on, but we as a team have gone through it, we’ve come through it,” Mjelde said. “We’re a strong group and the focus was on doing what we do best, and that’s football. I think we showed that today. I’ve had a good feeling the whole day going into this game.”

Norway players channeled their frustrations, their anger, the annoyances into an emphatic result against a Philippines side that had defeated New Zealand five days earlier.

“All the energy that we have: bad, good, everything in between, just put it into tonight’s performance,” Reiten said.

Haug opened the scoring six minutes into the match to set the tone. She started in place of Ada Hegerberg, who missed a second straight match due to a groin injury. Hegerberg said after the match that she feels good and she’s “taking care of it day by day.”  

“Getting a win like today, it needs to nourish us in some way,” Hegerberg said. “It needs to give us confidence and it also needs to give us like a, ‘OK, how can we be even better?’ because I think we can be even better, and you need to be very self-critical in good moments. I think that’s how you’re going to do well.

Reiten said the lesson from the past week is that the team must stick together. Either Japan or Spain awaits in the Round of 16. Either would be a much stronger test than any team Norway has faced thus far at this tournament.

“We’re not done yet,” Reiten said. “Very happy about tonight, very happy about going through to the next round, but we want more.”

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