Northern Ireland prepare to make historic tournament debut against two-time champions Norway


Norway and Northern Ireland follow the historic curtain raiser at Old Trafford with a trip to St.Mary’s Stadium as both sides look to get their Euro 2022 campaigns underway!

Audiences below a certain age may not remember Norway’s European triumphs of 1987 and 1993, but the Scandinavians have tasted success in previous generations and are hoping to reign supreme once more over a quarter of a century later.

To do so, they will have to escape a group that includes the hosts, and one might possibly assume that Northern Ireland becomes a must win game from day one.

They will come up against the tournament newbies and heavy underdogs at St.Mary’s Stadium, at which Northern Ireland will play all three of their group games.

After Northern Ireland squeaked through to the play-offs on head-to-head away goals before shocking Ukraine back in April of 2021 to reach their first ever major tournament, the ‘Green and White Army’ will face one of three familiar foes, all of whom who have provided difficult outings for Kenny Shiels’ side in recent times.

Incidentally, both England and Austria are in Northern Ireland’s current World Cup Qualifying group, and the Euro hosts put a whopping nine goals past the Northern Irish without response across the home and away fixtures. Against Austria however, the girls in green did fare slightly better, with a hard fought 2-2 draw earned at Seaview requiring a dramatic 92nd minute equaliser from the Austrians. Their fate was not so bright for the away fixture however, as they succumbed by 3-1 in Wiener Neustadt.

Additionally, Northern Ireland’s famed route to this tournament also provided run ins with their first opponents, and this is what perhaps makes for the darkest of reading from a Northern Irish perspective. Back in the August and November of 2019, Northern Ireland clashed with Norway in their Euro qualification group encounters, losing out 6-0 on both occasions.

However, not only have almost three years passed since then, but also Northern Ireland will be hoping to bring a band of tremendous support to their home for the next week and a half in Southampton, as well as perhaps encouraging any of the Northern Irish community living in England to come and support the team.

That being said, that does not make the task at hand much less daunting, with Norway ranked 36 places above them in the world and with a plethora of talent from some of the best teams in the world.

Norway boast seven WSL players to Northern Ireland’s one, despite the locational differences, and also world class talents from some of the best teams in the world. None perhaps greater than Lyon’s Ada Hegerberg.

The 26-year-old striker has a staggering 236 goals in 210 appearances for the French side, and despite a somewhat quieter season by her exceptionally high standards, still managed 17 goals and seven assists in all competitions, including helping her side on their way to Champions League glory. Hegerberg scored in every single round of the competition, including the final, en route to picking up her sixth Champions League winner medal in seven years.

A former Ballon d’Or Féminin winner back in 2018, Hegerberg is a bonafide Norwegian superstar and is widely considered as one of the best players in the world. Standing 5ft10, Hegerberg offers a genuine presence in the box and is perhaps the greatest header of the ball in the women’s game today, meaning that the likes of Sarah McFadden, Kelsie Burrows and Julie Nelson will have their work cut out defending against the likes of the Norwegian.

Furthermore, whilst the likes of Kelsie Burrows bring youthfulness to the back line, the remainder of the back three have a combined age of 72, which could prove problematic when posed against young players from some of the best clubs in the world. It will be intriguing to see whether Shiels opts to utilise the home favourite in Laura Rafferty, with the 26-year-old defender recently getting promoted to the Championship with her Southampton side.

Kick-off will take place at 8:00pm at St.Mary’s Stadium, with another good crowd expected and millions watching from around Europe and indeed the world. Such exposure may also be unusual for the Northern Irish, and whilst there is no pressure in the form of expectation, the pressure to go out and put in your best performance with millions of eyes on you for perhaps the first time in their careers will be great. How the ‘Girls in Green & White’ deal with this could well dictate the outcome of the game.

For Norway meanwhile, their pressure is an altogether different kind of pressure – the pressure of expectation. Expectation to beat  their opponents, and beat them well, as well as go on and contend with the best teams in Europe and make a serious dent in this competition.

As a result of this, there will be many cliches thrown around, but Norway will be desperate to put Northern Ireland under pressure early and get themselves ahead, allowing them to relax and play as if this were any other fixture. However Northern Ireland will look to use the energy from the crowd and will hope to frustrate the Norwegians, knowing that the longer they keep the scores level the best chance they have.

This game is unlikely to be a pretty encounter, certainly not from a Northern Irish perspective, but Norway will hope that their sheer quality will be too much for their opponents to handle, whilst Northern Ireland will look to make even more history and pick up their first ever major tournament points.

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