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 penalty from Caroline Graham Hansen, 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.
After Wednesday night’s Old Trafford record attendance of 68,871 for the Championship opener, a more modest crowd of 9,146 turned out in the sunshine at St Mary’s, with a sizable contingent from each nation.
Norway, winners of this competition in 1987 and 1993, twice defeated their opponents 6-0 in qualifying and quickly brought Northern Ireland to the barrel of another big defeat by capitalizing on a series of defensive failings.
Manchester City midfielder Blakstad claimed the opening goal in the 10th minute, beating goalkeeper Jackie Burns at her near post with a low left-footed shot after right-back Abbie Magee was caught out of position.
Arsenal player Maanum quickly doubled the lead.
She stripped Chloe McCarron just outside the Northern Ireland 18-yard box following a poorly executed goal kick and then was left with a simple finish into an unprotected net after receiving the ball from the uninterested Ada Hegerberg.
While Shiels’ team showed bursts of initiative at the break, the one-way traffic continued.
Burns produced a couple of fine saves, before 2018 Ballon d’Or winner Hegerberg squandered two golden chances to extend the lead, including denying a touch when Magee atoned for his earlier mistake with a superb last-minute block. .
Northern Ireland were being regularly carved up and once again contributed to their own downfall when the game effectively ended as a contest in the 31st minute.
VAR stepped in after Nadene Caldwell inexplicably handled the ball into her own box after a corner kick, allowing Barcelona’s impressive star Hansen to confidently dispatch the resulting penalty kick past the ball’s fingertips. Burns.
Shiels, whose squad contains 13 part-timers, responded to a difficult opening period by bringing in veteran captain Marissa Callaghan for her first appearance since suffering a toe injury in May.
The alteration helped provoke an immediate response.
Rachel Furness returned the ball across the area after Norway made a mess of clearing a corner and central defender Nelson, 37, claimed a small part of the story by heading over the line, despite the best efforts. of goalkeeper Guro Pettersen.
The goal was enthusiastically received by the Green and White Army in the stands.
However, thoughts of an unlikely comeback were quickly extinguished when Chelsea winger Reiten restored the three-goal lead by catching Burns with a low 20-yard free kick.
An offside flag later denied Hegerberg a place on the scoresheet, before a devastated Magill departed visibly distraught following an awkward fall.
Northern Ireland will look to bounce back on Monday when Austria visit St Mary’s, while Norway travel along the south coast for a tantalizing showdown with Sarina Wiegman’s Lionesses in Brighton.