World Cup kicks off to a great start

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Norway’s women’s national football team could hardly have had a better start at the World Cup in France this weekend, not least after all the pressure the women were under during the run-up. Their 3-0 victory in their opening match against Nigeria was literally a dream come true.

Norway’s national women’s football team was jubilant after winning their opening match at the World Cup against Nigeria. PHOTO: NFF

“This is just so wonderful,” player Guro Reiten, who scored Norway’s first goal Saturday night, told TV2 when it was all over. “We have really looked forward to this, had some fantastically good energy and the whole gang has been on top this past week. We can feel that something special is going on.”

They literally proved their motto that “we’re strong together,” two years after star player Ada Hegerberg created no small degree of conflict and divisiveness  by harshly criticizing Norwegian football management and ultimately withdrawing from the national team. That caught international attention, since Hegerberg is ranked as the top female football player in the world and has a highly successful career at top-ranked club Lyon, but isn’t playing in the World Cup.

More conflict erupted just last week when Hegerberg unleased another round of criticism and complaints against Norwegian football in two Norwegian publications, Morgenbladet and Josimar. That in turn prompted another Norwegian football star, Martin Ødegaard to fire back with criticism of Hegerberg herself, basically telling her to stop complaining and show some respect for the Norwegian team as it headed into the World Cup.

Did well without Hegerberg
The Norwegian women didn’t need Hegerberg Saturday night as they ran and kicked their way to their best result in years before a packed stadium in Reims. “We start off with a 3-0 result and couldn’t dream for anything more,” Reiten exclaimed.

Caroline Graham Hansen had assisted on Reiten’s  scoring, with Lisa-Marie Utland scoring the second goal, followed by a blunder on the part of Nigeria that gave the Norwegians yet another goal. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that the match meant so much to Hansen that she became highly emotional even before play began, and while the team was riding to the stadium in their bus.

“This means everything,” Hansen told Norway’s press corps that waited for an hour-and-a-half for her to come make some remarks after all the others had. “I am incredibly proud.”

She’d already managed to send off her gratitude via social media, nothing that sports is a “passion,” and that “we play football with feelings.” She said everyone on the team could be glad “because we are strong together, because we think ‘we’ before ‘me,’ because we put ‘you’ before ‘me.’ I love this team so much that the tears were building up on the way to the match today.”

Strength from adversity
The adversity of the past two years, since the team’s “fiasco” at the European Championships that unhinged Hegerberg, has perhaps brought the team together even more. “We have worked so hard to be here (qualified for World Cup play),” Hansen told reporters. “I have never been part of a team where the team feeling is as great as it is here, and that we all just want one another to be the best we can be. Whether we’re sitting on the bench or up in the stands, we are all together on this.”

Head Coach Martin Sjögren, who’s had to defend both himself and the team against Hegerberg’s criticism, was a happy man after the opening World Cup math. “I’m proud of the players and the support apparatus and very happy,” he told TV2. “There’s a lot of hard work behind this, both getting here and then preparing for the World Cup. It’s just great to see the women play as they did tonight.”

The victory gives the Nowegians valuable points in group play as they now prepare for the next match against host country France in Nice on Wednesday. Then they’ll meet South Korea back in Reims on June 17, with the two best teams from the group advancing to further play.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund