June 25, 2011

Group D Preview: Norway

Norway (#9)
Region: UEFA
Coach: Eli Landsem
How They Qualified: Won UEFA Group Stage, then defeated Ukraine in playoff.
Prior Cups:
2007: 4th Place
2003: Lost in Quarterfinals
1999: 4th Place
1995: Champions
1991: 2nd Place
Returnees from 2007 WWC: (8) Skarbo, Mienna, Ronning, Mykjaland, Stensland, Giske, Herlovsen, Kaurin.

Roster (Average Age: 24.89)
Ingrid HjelmsethGKStabaek3145/0
Caroline KnutsenGKRoa274/0
Erika SkarboGKArna-Bjornar2416/0
Hedda GardsjordDFRoa2822/0
Nora Holdstad BergeDFLinkoping246/0
Marita Skammelsrud LundDFLSK Kvinner2220/0
Guro Knutsen MiennaDFRoa2630/3
Maren MjeldeDFArna-Bjornar2132/1
Trine RonningDFStabaek29113/20
Ingrid RylandDFArna-Bjornar22 7/0
Runa VikestadDFKolbotn2615/1
Emilie Bosshard HaaviMFRoa198/4
Gry Tofte ImsMFKlepp258/0
Lene MykjalandMFRoa2436/8
Ingvild StenslandMFFCF Lyon29102/5
Kristine Wigdahl HeglandMFArna-Bjornar180/0
Madeleine GiskeFWArna-Bjornar2317/1
Isabell HerlovsenFWLSK Kvinner2364/19
Leni Larsen KaurinFWWolfsburg3081/4
Cecilie PedersenFWAvaldsnes2021/8
Elise ThorsnesFWRoa2240/6

Recent Matches:
6/16/11GermanyFriendlyL 0-3
5/19/11FinlandFriendlyW 5-1
3/9/11DenmarkAlgarveW 0-0 (5-4 pk)
3/7/11JapanAlgarveL 0-1
3/4/10United StatesAlgarveL 0-2
3/2/10FinlandAlgarveW 2-1
10/26/10SwedenFriendlyL 1-3
9/15/10UkraineUEFA PlayoffW 2-0
9/11/10UkraineUEFA PlayoffW 1-0
8/25/10FYR MacedoniaUEFA WC QualifierW 7-0
8/21/10SlovakiaUEFA WC QualifierW 4-0
6/23/10BelarusUEFA WC QualifierW 3-0
6/19/10HollandUEFA WC QualifierT 2-2
6/3/10CanadaFriendlyT 1-1

Certainly Norway has one of the most storied histories in women’s soccer. It is probably their misfortune that the first Women’s World Cup wasn’t played until 1991, as they fielded a strong team for years before that. They have made it to the quarterfinals in all five previous World Cups and they are the only team outside of the United States and Germany to have won the Cup.

Norway made it through the group stage of UEFA qualifying with relative ease and then shutout Ukraine twice to punch their ticket to the World Cup. Outside of the 2011 Algarve Cup, they have played only three friendlies since qualifying. Their record since qualifying is very lackluster 3-4, although they did recently defeat the United States in an unofficial match.

One thing that Norway hasn’t been lately is lucky. Injuries have hit them pretty hard, with Lise Klaveness and Melissa Wiik being out of the World Cup with injuries. Now, Lisa Marie Woods has also been ruled out because of a hip injury and she will be replaced on the team by Kristine Wigdahl Hegland.

While injuries have been plentiful for this Norwegian squad, goals have not so far this year. They have scored seven goals in six matches, which wouldn’t be so bad, except that all seven came in two games against the same team, Finland. Norway has been blanked by Germany, Denmark, Japan and the USA, although they did win the match against Denmark on penalty kicks.

As for those players that will be making the trip to Germany, Norway has an experienced squad. Only eight players return from the 2007 World Cup team, but there is certainly enough of a nucleus to call this team a veteran side. They appear to have a nice mixture of youth and experience and in spite of all the injuries, should be a team to be reckoned with in Germany.

That experience starts with the midfield. Ingvild Stensland has long been one of the most respected players in the world. She is an exceptional defender and her work rate is consistently top notch. She is Norway’s captain and rightfully so. She is joined in the midfield by Lene Mykjaland, who is a talented offensive player and passer.

On the attack, Norway has a number of young strikers that will give opposing defenses problems. The best of these is probably Isabell Herlovsen, who has scored 19 national team goals, nine of those in qualifying matches. She scored six goals in one match against Macedonia. Next, there is Elise Thorsnes, who recently scored a hat trick against Finland. Young Cecilie Pedersen might be the scorer of the future for Norway and she put two in that same match against Finland.

The defense is led by Maren Mjelde. The central defender is rock solid on the back line and it’s easy to forget that she is just 21 years old. For experience on the back line, there is Trine Ronning, who has well over 100 caps for Norway. I’m sure Ronning would like to atone for her own goal in the 2007 semifinal match against Germany.

Ingrid Hjelmseth will be in goal for Norway. She posted nine shutouts in ten matches during qualification, giving up just two goals to Holland. One can almost count on Norway’s matches being low scoring, as they are a strong defensive team and Hjelmseth is a big part of that.

For Norway, it may well come down to their match against Australia for the second spot in Group D to the quarterfinals. Both teams have suffered key injuries. It will be an interesting contrast with the offensive minded Aussies against the always tough defense of Norway.

Note: Some information for this article was obtained from www.fifa.com, www.fotball.no, and www.uefa.com.