Third up in Group A is one of the most decorated and successful national teams in women’s football – Norway. The Scandis have a long and colourful history on the international scene, and it’s one of the national teams to have never failed to qualify for a World Cup.
Norway’s biggest feat to this day is their World Cup win in 1995. The tournament took place in their neighbouring country Sweden, and Norway cruised through the group stages, winning all three of their games, before beating a weak Denmark in the quarterfinals. They then got the USA in the semis, but an early goal from Ann Kristin Aarønes was enough to beat the Americans (who lost their first international tournament with this loss) and seal Norway’s spot in the finals, where they went up against Germany. Going into the game (with two Euro finals losses in the back) Norway were not the favourites, but two quick goals scored in succession helped Norwat beat the odds, and the Germans, to stand as world champions. Since then they’ve produced some mixed perfomances, winning the Olympics in Sydney 2000 and continuing to qualify for every World Cup, but not always showing up. One of the biggest disappointments of recent years is their surprisingly poor performance at the Euros 2017, to which they qualified without losing a game and being the highest ranked team in their group, but they lost all of their three games and did not manage to score a single goal in the tournament. They managed to make up for this to some extent by beating reigning Euro champions the Netherlands 2-1 in their final group game for the World Cup qualification, topping their group and automatically qualifying for the tournament.
There are a few consistent names that show up in Norway’s squad, like the veteran goalkeeper Ingrid Hjelmseth, 38 years old, who’s been dependable between the sticks throughout Norway’s WC qualification. Captain Maren Mjelde is another household name, who’s been playing for the national team for more than a decade and is classified as the heart and soul of the team. With her flexible set of skills she can feature in the central defence, play as a defensive midfielder or as a playmaker and brings a lot to the team. The likes of Maria Thorisdottir, Lisa-Marie Utland and Isabel Herlovsen are other important names that have contributed a great deal to the national side.
Then we have the case of Ada Hegerberg, the 23 year-old striker and inagural winner of the Ballon d’Or (for women, because yes before 2018 only men received the award…) who, by most people, is considered to be the best female football player in the world right now, also happens to be Norwegian, but won’t be playing at the World Cup this summer. After Norway’s bleak Euro 2017 performance, she announced that she was not going to return to the national team because she was not happy with the way that the Norwegian Football Federation was treating women’s football in the country.
“Obviously, I’d love to play for my country,” she says.
“I’ve been quite critical, direct with the federation [about] what I felt hasn’t been good enough in my career in the national team.
“It’s not always about the money. It’s about preparing, taking action, professionality, really clear points I’ve put quite directly to them when I made the decision.”
“I know what I want and know my values and therefore it’s easy to take hard choices when you know what the ambitions are and what values you stand for, so it’s all about staying true to yourself, be yourself” Hegerberg explained.
On the international scene she is considered one of the best strikers in the world – it’s more than likely she’ll surpass 300 career goals in 2019, at 23 years old, and her scoring rate is better than both Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo – but back home in Norway, the football federation seem to have a completely different view of her and they’ve made her out to be a prima donna, difficult to work with, saying that she wanted priviliges and coach Martin Sjögren claims that she doesn’t share the “values” of the team, which Hegerberg strongly refutes.
“I expect if people have had a problem with me or my attitude, then they come and take it directly with me, face to face. No one has done that, and then I expect that is what is the reality,” Hegerberg said in 2017, on the scarce occasion she commented on the situation.
It’s not possible to go into this situation and start saying who is right and who is wrong, there is simply the information that the media and the parties themselves have put out there. But this story made me think about another really great football player living in a country plagued by something called “The Law of Jante” – which basically means that society does not want individuals to believe themselves to be above the collective – who, as it happens, was also a striker, banging in lots of goals, and was often likened with being a ‘prima donna’, but in his case he was accommodated to, rather than forced out. I’m not saying these two situations are exactly the same, or even close, but some things stand out and correlations can be made. You can go in and read my text about Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the Swedish men’s national team here.
Looking at how the team plays, the Swedish manager Sjögren tends to choose a very straightforward 4-4-2 approach, often employing his versetile captain Mjelde in the heart of the defense. Sjögren had a tough task in front of him when he took over in 2016 after legendary manager Even Pellerud, who led the team to World Cup glory in 1995, but after a disappointing Euro 2017 campaign he managed to lead them to the top of the qualification group. Norway has two friendlies coming up against Scotland and Canada, on the 17 and 21 of January, in La Manga in Spain, but other than that, their calender is looking quite empty at the moment.
Will Norway be able to repeat their feat of the 1995 World Cup without their star striker? Is it irrelevant? Get discussing in the comments below!