Hege Riise had good reason to smile from ear to ear after her first victory as the new head coach of the Norwegian women’s national football team. The victory also secured the team a spot in the World Cup next year.
“We showed that we have good players,” Riise told news bureau NTB after beating Belgium on the Belgians’ own home turf heading into the weekend. Riise especially pointed to Guro Reiten, calling her skills “enormous,” while also giving credit to Guro Bergsvand and Maren Mjelde for winning “duel after duel.”
Riise said the most important thing, though, was “the feeling that we had control over defense” while up against Belgium’s “good team” that had the home team advantage “with the entire stadium on their side.” Tuva Hansen, meanwhile, scored the winning goal, giving the Norwegians the 1-0 victory they needed to qualify for World Cup 2023 that will play out in Australia and New Zealand. Star player Ada Hegerberg had to limp off the field with an injury, but team doctors could later confirm that nothing was broken.
Players quickly put on new T-shirts emblazoned with their World Cup destination next year, and were thrilled to be back on the winning side after a disappointing European Championships in July. Reiten fully agreed with Riise about how important it was to put up a strong defense: “This was all about showing who we are,” Reiten told NTB. “We could finally shut out the opponents and we showed our Norwegian defense culture out on the field.”
The team had only had three training sessions with their new coach before Friday night’s important match in Belgium. Riise was tapped just a few weeks ago to take over for former coach Martin Sjögren, who resigned after disappointing losses at the European Championships that kept the Norwegians out of the finals.
Now the team will have the next 11 months to train and play under Riise’s guidance and Reiten made it clear they were all looking forward to it. “This victory was important for us to get going again after the European Championships, and now we’ll keep working,” she said.
Riise was well-received by the team, and had been one of the top candidates for the job. She’s a former national team member herself, with 188 national matches to her credit during which she scored 58 goals. She played for the team at a time when the Norwegian women won gold at the Olympics in 2000 and bronze in 1996, as well as winning both the World Cup in 1995 and the European Championships in 1993. The now-53-year-old Riise played professionally for Team Strømmen, Setskog/Høland and Asker in Norway, Nikko Tokyo in Japan and Carolina Courage in the US.
She went on to coach for both the USA’s national team and England’s, where she served as acting head coach, as well as for Team Strømmen and LSK Kvinner. Commentators had called her “by far the most qualified” for the role as head coach for Norway.
‘You listen when she speaks’
Riise and her players weren’t resting on their laurels as they prepared for their match on home turf in Oslo against Albania on Tuesday. Players have described her as calm, in control and unifying, along with being thoughtful and observant, “and someone you listen to when she speaks.”
There’s been recent debate over her salary (around NOK 1.7 million, or around USD 170,000 a year) because it’s around a third of what the coach for Norway’s national men’s football team earns. Ståle Solbakken himself said he could understand the debate, but noted that “there are some very strong market forces at play here, and that have been at play for a long time.”
Women’s football, meanwhile, is quickly growing in stature and popularity itself, and Solbakken think salaries for both coaches and players will rise as well. “I think NFF (the Norwegian football federation) along with the Americans’ have come the farthest when it comes to equality,” Solbakken told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “I’m sure that will also get better.”