Northern Ireland were outclassed on their major tournament debut as Norway cruised to a comprehensive 4-1 victory at Euro 2022 in Southampton.
First-half strikes from Julie Blakstad and Frida Maanum, plus a Caroline Graham Hansen penalty, set the two-time European champions on course for a routine success that would tarnish a historic occasion for their opponents.
Defender Julie Nelson, Northern Ireland’s most capped player, gave the competition’s lowest-ranked nation a brief hope of an unlikely comeback by heading in a historic goal just after half-time.
But Guro Reiten’s free kick sealed a routine success for Martin Sjogren’s side to draw level on three points with hosts England at the top of Group A.
A difficult night for Kenny Shiels’ underdogs was compounded by striker Simone Magill, who has just moved from Everton to Aston Villa, leaving the pitch in tears due to injury.
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We have created a monster – Shiels
Northern Ireland manager Kenny Shiels felt there were positive aspects to the defeat.
After conceding two goals in the first 13 minutes, they trailed 3-0 at half-time, but Nelson’s historic goal gave them reason to celebrate.
“You’re not happy when you get beaten 4-1, but there are extenuating circumstances,” Shiels said.
“They were nervous for the first 25-30 minutes and you can see Hansen and (Ada) Hegerberg, how good they are.
“We were up against the two best strikers in the world and we tied in the last hour of the match. If you take the penalty kick, we actually win it.
“The score was hard to take, I thought we deserved better than that, but we have been in this program for three years and it will take 10 years to get us into the top 20 in Europe.
“We have created a monster because we have grown too fast and we are playing against teams of this type. It’s hard.
“If we can continue to progress, then we can do it a little bit faster. We have to be realistic and understand that this is an emerging game in Northern Ireland.”
When your country calls…
Real Sociedad striker Amaiur Sarriegi received an unexpected call-up when Alexia Putellas was ruled out of the Spain squad with a knee injury.
The 21-year-old had been in the initial training squad of 28 but did not make the final cut, so he went on vacation.
But when she was contacted and asked to immediately fly to England, she left everything on her break at a theme park near Barcelona.
“When we called her, she left everything, she wasn’t at home,” said coach Jorge Vilda.
Denmark seeks to improve
Pernille Harder hopes her Denmark team’s bond and “tactical knowledge” can boost their fortunes at Euro 2022 as they prepare for their Group B opener against Germany on Friday.
Harder will lead her team as captain of Denmark at the Brentford Community
Stadium as they intend to improve, having been runners-up in 2017.
“There are so many good teams playing in this European Championship, and Germany and Spain are two of the best, maybe two of the favourites,” Harder told uefa.com.
“We know that on paper we may not be as good as them, but what we have, the team bond and the tactical knowledge, maybe it can help us a lot.”
Until next time
Spain v Finland (Group B: 5:00 p.m., MK Stadium)
Germany v Denmark (Group B: 8:00 p.m., Brentford Community Stadium)