Northern Ireland dismantled by Norway on tournament debut


Three first half goals from Martin Sjögren’s Norway side was enough to all but put the game to bed, but Julie Nelson instilled a glimmer of hope just after the break before Chelsea’s Guro Reiten re-established the cushion to secure a 4-1 win.

There were 36 world ranking positions separating these two outfits headed into their opening Women’s Euro clash, and a win in Group A was vitally important after England had edged past Austria the previous night.

Triple-crown winners Norway were hot favourites, but Northern Ireland had a vocal band of support in Southampton as the action got underway.

Early on, star player Ada Hegerberg made her presence known as she broke through and let off an early warning sign to the Northern Irish defence. This warning was not heeded.

After just ten minutes, Norway had the lead thanks to Julie Blakstad after Guro Reiten sprayed the ball out to the young Manchester City left back, with the 20-year-old controlling and finishing well at the near post despite the best efforts of Jacqueline Burns.

Moments later it was two as Burns played the ball out to Julie Nelson, only for the 37-year-old to be dispossessed outside her area. Hegerberg was unselfish and kept her cool as she found Frida Maanum to tap home and give Kenny Shiels’ side a mountain to climb.

Norway continued to push for a third, but were largely frustrated until VAR stepped in and awarded them a penalty for a Nadene Caldwell handball. Up stepped Barcelona’s Caroline Graham Hansen to blast her side into cruise control, despite Burns getting a hand to it.

This left Northern Ireland with a seemingly impossible task, but the halftime team-talk seemed to invigorate the ‘Girls in Green and White’, as they came out on the front foot for the second period. They were rewarded in the 49th minute after a defensive scramble in the Norwegian area led to Rachel Furness drilling the ball across the area, finding the head of Julie Nelson to direct home, despite the best efforts of Guro Pettersen.

Subsequently, the Northern Irish support lifted the entire atmosphere around the ground, and it seemed as though that there was a contest brewing. Lauren Wade let fly from the edge of the area looking to further reduce the defecit as she stung the gloves of the Norwegian shot-stopper.

In games between full time and part time outfits, fitness and quality are often the two key differentials. On this occasion, the latter rang true as a free kick just over 20 yards out was awarded to Norway in the 54th minute, and Reiten was provider turned goalscorer as she whipped the ball past Burns, who perhaps will be disappointed with her efforts for the fourth and decisive goal.

The two-time European Champions showed their class in the manner of which they saw the game out, keeping a weary and sucker-punched Northern Ireland side at bay whilst conserving their own energy for a huge clash up next.

Norway will travel to Brighton to play the hosts, England in their crucial second Group A encounter, and this tie could play a huge bearing on who will top the group and progress as the top seed.

Whilst this performance may have been against weaker opposition on paper, the Norwegian squad will be full of confidence that they can cause an upset and all but secure their Quarter-Final spot with a game to spare.

Meanwhile, this was the expected baptism of fire for a Northern Ireland side making not just their Euro debut, but in fact their major tournament bow. There was no lack of effort or application from Shiels’ side, but they were simply outclassed on the day and the concession of the fourth goal moments after pulling one back seemed to knock the stuffing out of the part-timers.

There was, however, a positive for Northern Ireland moving forward – that being their tremendous support despite the scoreline. It seems the Northern Irish fans have really taken to this group of players and will undoubtedly provide a boost for the clashes against Austria and of course the big one against the hosts, England. The ‘Green and White Army’ will remain in Southampton, as they are set to do so for all of their group games and will next face Austria at the Premier League ground. Can Northern Ireland pick up a historic tournament victory?

Follow us on Twitter @ProstInt


About Author

Comments are closed.