June 29, 2011

Norway 1, Equatorial Guinea 0

Emilie Haavi's goal in the 84th minute sent Norway past Equatorial Guinea 1-0 in the opening match of Group D on Wednesday. This game was in doubt from the opening moment to the very end.

If anyone expected Equatorial Guinea to be overmatched, they were certainly mistaken. They traded blow for blow with Norway, but in the end, they could not score. EG's star Anonman attempted shot after shot, double figures in all, but to no avail.

Norway came close to taking an early lead. Haavi hit a low shot off the left post from the right side of the box and Isabell Herlovsen put the rebound well over the net. A few minutes later, it was again Herlovsen sending one over the crossbar from 10 yards out.

Equatorial Guinea had their first good chance in the 20th minute as Diala sent Dulcia through, but Haavi made up ground and slid to block the shot just in the nick of time. A couple minutes later, Dorine came around the left edge clear, but her shot went right to Ingrid Hjelmseth.

Throughout the first half, both teams tried several shots from distance with very few being even remotely dangerous. The African squad was especially guilty of attempting long shots, instead of holding the ball to allow teammates to join in the attack where they could use their speed and skill.

Later in the half, Norway had two more chances as Elise Thorsnes' shot went just wide, with EG's goalkeeper Miriam getting a hand on it and later Herlovsen put yet another over the crossbar.

Just seconds before the intermission, Anonman beat the defense to get in alone against Hjelmseth, but Norwegian keeper made a nice save on the shot from 9 yards out.

Herlovsen continued to have problems with accuracy into the second half. Thorsnes forced a turnover and sent the ball to Herlovsen who hit it well wide of the net.

Anonman continued to impress with her ability, if not her accuracy, in the 53rd minute. She spun on her defender and put on a burst of speed into the penalty area, but touched the ball wide of the right post.

The game seemed to be opening up as a couple minutes later, Herlovsen dropped a pass back to Lene Mykjaland, whose shot glanced off a defender and then went off the outside of the right post.

In the 58th minute, an Ingvild Stensland corner found the head of Thorsnes who headed the ball toward the goal. Miriam made the save, but the ball came loose in traffic. Herlovsen was able to hit a soft shot that hit the left post, but Equatorial Guinean defender Carolina was able to fend off Herlovsen's quest for the rebound and get the ball out of trouble.

Next, it was Equatorial Guinea that would have a couple of chances. Anonman's shot from distance in the 66th minute went over the crossbar. A corner kick caused Hjelmseth all kinds of trouble as she got caught out, but the ball was deflected out of traffic just wide of the post. Anonman again tested the defense in the 75th minute, but her weak shot went well wide of the left post.

Back came Norway. Haavi put one just over the crossbar in the 78th minute, followed by Cecilie Pedersen's left-footed drive from 20 yards which forced Miriam to push the ball over the bar with both hands.

Norway continued to increase the pressure and it finally paid off in the 84th minute. Maren Mjelde took possession and dribbled in from 45 yards out to just short of the penalty area. She deftly pushed the ball through to Leni Kaurin on the right side who took the ball to the end line and hit a low cross. Miriam was only able to get a hand on the ball as it came across, just enough to push behind Stensland who was making a run down the center. However, Haavi was making a run toward the back post and she finished into the center of the net as Miriam was unable to recover in time.

Equatorial Guinea was unable to get an equalizer in the remaining time and Norway got the three points, which clearly had to be a relief for Norwegian coach Eli Landsem.

It will be interesting to watch Equatorial Guinea for the rest of the tournament. They showed good skills and played very well at times. If they could be just a bit more patient, instead of trying 25-30 yard shots, they could be a force to be reckoned with. They could give their next opponent, Australia, quite a bit of trouble.

Meanwhile, one would think that Norway will have to be just a little bit better than this when they face Brazil on Sunday. While some players, especially Haavi, had very strong matches, the team's performance was uneven. Anonman nearly split their defense on several occasions and that's something that they will have to fix before they meet Marta and company.