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Monday, June 24, 2024

Football stars lash out at themselves

Norway has some of the world’s top football players, but they “go from championship to championship and underperform,” admits one of them, Caroline Graham Hansen. Her comment came just after the Norwegian women lost their opening match against New Zealand as the World Cup got underway in Auckland on Thursday.

Norway’s team captain Maren Mjelde, who plays for Chelsea, was also unhappy after the loss to New Zealand. PHOTO: NRK screen grab

Graham Hansen plays professionally for top club Barcelona, which just won the Champions League. Expectations were high that both her and teammates like Ada Hegerberg of Lyon and Guro Reiten of Chelsea would help get Norway into the finals at the World Cup. Hegerberg is already an icon in professional football and Reiten was part of Chelsea’s league victory.

Norway may still advance in the World Cup, but they were heavily favoured to beat New Zealand and ended up losing by a score of 1-0. “We didn’t manage to accomplish anything out there,” Graham Hansen told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) right after the bitter defeat. “We were bad. Then you lose. It’s frustrating.”

Hegerberg, who actually has been named the best female football player in the world, was furious over the loss. Her criticism of how women’s football was poorly organized and underfunded prompted her to drop out of the last World Cup in 2019, and she’s widely credited for major improvements since including new coach Hege Riise. Both Hegerberg and her teammates were positive and confident heading into the World Cup under Riise’s leadership, only to lose at the start.

Ada Hegerberg (left) and Frida Maanum of Arsenal were also sombre during a moment of silence before the match began, in tribute to victims of a shooting in Auckland earlier in the day. PHOTO: NRK screen grab

“I am very disappointed, and we have to be, all of us,” Hegerberg told NRK. “It was a bad match from our side and we didn’t get into it. We can talk as much as we want, but we must get up to the level we want.”

She noted that the team had “some quite good chances to score, but overall, we were under par through the entire match and never managed to create attacks that put enough pressure on them, which I think we had good opportunities to do.”

Team captain Maren Mjelde was also clearly frustrated and admitted to poor coordination during her post remarks to NRK. Head coach Riise called it “a very frustrating match for us on the bench and for all the players out there. We don’t deliver what I think we can, and that can be blamed on many things.” If it’s any consolation, Norway’s men’s national team has also had trouble winning international competitions, despite having stars like Martin Ødegaard of Arsenal and Erling Braut Haaland of Manchester City.

New Zealand’s team, meanwhile, was playing on home turf before more than 40,000 football fans who were mostly on their side. It was the team’s 15th attempt at a World Cup victory and Hanne Wilkinson’s goal right at the start of the second half electrified the stadium, and the team. Wilkinson, who was later named Player of the Match, said it was the best day of her life, beyond her dreams. She in turn credited her fellow New Zealanders who turned out on a chilly evening to cheer and provide the home advantage.

“They were very geared up, they won the first balls and the second balls and we were hesitant and never found any rhythm at all,” Riise said. She gathered her players for a short round of talks right afterwards, and has five days to make improvements until the next World Cup match in Norway’s Group A, again Switzerland on July 25 and the Philippines on July 30.

“I will thoroughly evaluate what we could have done differently, and changes,” Riise told NRK, after what commentators called “the worst possible start for Norway at the World Cup.” NRK’s Bengt Eriksen also claimed that the team appeared “paralyzed and scared,” adding that Riise “should get more out of this team.”

NewsinEnglish.no/Nina Berglund

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