Norway’s national women’s football team is back on a roll, after settling a long conflict with star player Ada Hegerberg and getting its captain Maren Mjelde in place after a serious knee injury. Norway beat Kosovo late last week and then Poland this week, and players were finally smiling again.
Hegerberg’s return generated the most attention and media headlines. The Lyon star who’d been named Europe’s best female football player in 2018, and best in the world shortly after that, had angrily quit the Norway’s national team the year before when it failed to qualify for the European Championships in 2017. She blasted Norway’s football leadership at the time, specifically the women’s head coach Martin Sjögren, complaining that the women’s team received far too little support and that results simply weren’t good enough.
Sjögren, however, had gone on to lead the team into the World Cup in 2020, leaving Hegerberg on the sidelines. She continued to claim, however, that while she missed playing for Norway, she did not miss playing for the Norwegian Football Federation (NFF).
Last week, however, Hegerberg finally returned after years of negotiations, most recently with the new, highly acclaimed and outspoken president of NFF, Lise Klaveness. Hegerberg agreed to make a comeback, also to Sjögren’s coaching, and it went quite well: She scored three times in last week’s World Cup qualifier against Kosova (which Norway won by a score of 5-1), and on Tuesday Norway also beat Poland 2-1 on home turf at Ullevaal Stadium in Oslo. Hegerberg didn’t score herself but Norway now leads its World Cup qualifying group, with Belgium in second place followed by Poland, Albania, Kosovo and Armenia.
Both Hegerberg and Sjögren faced reporters together at a pre-qualifier press conference, with Hegerberg saying that “we wouldn’t be sitting here today if we hadn’t come to a point where things will go fine.” Sjögren said he’d “learned a lot” from it all and both made it clear that “what’s done is done,” that things “could have been handled differently” five years ago and that they are all starting fresh.
Details of the negotiations have mostly been kept under wraps, but Sjögren candidly said the Norwegian team “needs her” and that they’d agreed on how they’d all work together in the months ahead. The next qualifiers aren’t until next fall.
Hegerberg’s teammates also seemed glad she’s back, with Caroline Graham Hansen (who plays professionally for Barcelona), telling news bureau NTB that “Ada has come back with a big smile and looks forward to play with us again. We’re happy she’s back. Ada has always been a fantastic person to have in the group, someone who smiles and laughs, but who also makes demands and works hard.” Graham Hansen said it was “a huge boost” to get back a top-class player.
The captain of the team, Maren Mjelde, also returned after a long recovery period from a knee injury that still bothers her. Mjelde, who plays professionally for Chelsea, hadn’t been able to play for the national team for nearly a year-and-a-half. Her comeback was further stymied last week after she’d tested positive for the Corona virus, but she was part of the training session over the weekend and tapped to at least be a substitute in the match against Poland.
“It’s important for us to have Maren back on the field, but we have to take her situation into account,” Sjögren said before the Poland match. “She’s been in isolation and couldn’t train, and hasn’t been able to play much for Chelsea either. After talks with her club, we agreed she still can’t play an entire match.”
Mjelde admitted herself that her knee won’t ever be as good as it once was, “but it’s much better now.” So are things for the entire national squad, which will reunite for more qualifiers this fall in the run-up to the World Cup next year.