Women’s Euro 2022 Group A, round one: Northern Ireland 1-4 Norway
‘A new dream’ almost turned into the same old nightmare against Norway for Northern Ireland, the screams of frustration echoing over and over as the goal-hungry Norwegians seemed set to gorge their way to the top of the Group A table.
They still got there, but after conceding three first half goals in the heat of the first half, Kenny Shiels’s side kept their cool and held on to draw the second half against excellent opponents.
Much of the pre-match talk had centred on the goal threat carried by the comeback of Ada Hegerberg, but the Lyon centre-forward was a provider and poser of problems rather than a scorer.
Yet while the girls in white – avoiding the traditional green to aid colour-blind viewers – worked hard to keep the Norwegian front four quiet, goals came from other areas, with three before half-time.
Julie Nelson did at least delight the sizeable support in green when she headed in neatly early in the second half, after a corner wasn’t cleared properly, to become the oldest ever scorer at the Euros at the age of 37.
NI had started without another very experienced player, their skipper Marissa Callaghan, after her recent toe injury, with Sarah McFadden leading the team out and Chloe McCarron coming into the midfield alongside Nadene Caldwell.
Despite a decent start from Kenny Shiels’s side Norway left-back Julie Blakstad drilled in the opener inside 10 minutes, beating Jackie Burns for pace at her near post.
Three minutes later deep midfielder Frida Maanum pushed up, pressing high to rob a hesitant McCarron, before a wall-pass from Hegerberg presented the 22-year-old with a simple finish.
Graham Hansen’s footwork was almost as dazzling as the sun still high in the sky, searing over the stand, making conditions feel hotter than the actual 20 degrees.
The neat quick passing of all the Norwegians was also giving NI a roasting, with chances seeming to come every minute at one stage. Burns slid out to block, then turned a Maanum shot around. Hegerberg headed back across goal but wide, then almost finished off a fabulous flowing move only to be denied by a sliding block from Magee.
Although Rachel Furness did push forward from midfield, Lauren Wade looked lively when she got possession, and Simone Magill had a couple of speculative efforts from distance, the ball kept coming back towards the NI goal.
The next goal was still rather unexpected, though, coming from the spot with half and hour gone after a VAR check spotted that Nadene Caldwell had led with her elbow in trying to clear a corner kick. Barcelona star Graham Hansen coolly converted from 12 yards, despite Burns diving the right way.
The stadium hosts seemed to be joining the Norwegians in trolling NI by playing the Eurhythmics’ ‘Sweet Dreams’ at half-time, but as couple did come true for the girls in green.
First Callaghan came on for Caldwell, then Nelson nodded in after Furness volleyed a loose ball across goal, despite the efforts of goalkeeper Guro Pettersen to claw it out.
Yet just five minutes later Norway had restored their three-goal advantage, Guro Reiten bending a lovely low free kick in after McFadden was booked for clattering Graham Hansen.
In between those goals another last-ditch intervention from Magee had prevented Hegerberg providing another assist.
Norway boss Martin Sjogren made a triple substitution in the 65th minute, but kept on his best players and goal-scorers, so there was little lessening of the pressure on NI.
Hegerberg did get the ball past Burns soon after, but the supplier Reiten was offside and a fifth goal would not come for the Norwegians.
NI suffered a blow when Magill had to be helped off late on, although that did allow Caitlin McGuinness to join her elder sister Kirsty on the pitch as a fellow substitute.
At least McFadden escaped a second booking after a clumsy challenge on Hegerberg, and NI held out, holding out the hope of a better result against Austria back here on Monday evening.
Northern Ireland: Burns; Magee, Nelson, McFadden (capt.), Burrows (Holloway, 65), Vance; McCarron, Caldwell (Callaghan, h-t), Furness (K McGuinness, 73); Wade (Wilson, 79), Magill (C McGuinness, 78, inj.).
Norway: Pettersen; Sonstevold (T Hansen, 65), Mjelde (capt.) (Bergsvand, 81), Thorisdottir, Blakstad (Josendal, 89); Maanum (Boe Risa, 65), Syrstad Engen; Eikeland (Saevik, 65), Graham Hansen, Reiten; Hegerberg.
Referee: Lina Lehtovaara (Finland).