Northern Ireland had a challenging start to their very first major tournament as they were absolutely beaten by Norway in their Group A match in Southampton. Martin Sjögren's team skyrocketed to the top of the group on goal difference, knocking England off top place following their 1-0 win over Austria on Wednesday.
" It was a relief after the last Euros, it was a disaster for us. We didn't even score a goal [in 2017]," player of the match Caroline Graham Hansen stated. "To be able to recover and get a good start, it was important for everybody. I think everybody who was there in 2017 felt the relief when we scored the first goal." Graham Hansen showed that Northern Ireland were in for a tough night in the early stages. She beat several defenders to run half the pitch and feed Guro Reiten, whose attempt went over the bar. The chances simply kept coming with shots from Frida Maanum and Ada Hegerberg.
Northern Ireland needed a defensive fortress to attempt to get a point however it was not long up until Norway scored. In the tenth minute the ball was worked well to Julie Blakstad, who sliced it into the bottom left corner. Northern Ireland aimed to strike back rapidly but Rachel Furness's long-range attempt went begging and the team's night went from bad to worse.
A defensive scary program allowed Maanum to strike. Goalkeeper Jacqueline Burns played a short ball to Chloe McCarron but it was available in the path of Hegerberg. The Lyon forward tapped a pass to Arsenal's Maanum who doubled their lead. Maanum continued to be vibrant with another rumbling hit going just wide and winning a corner. Hegerberg came close with a header from it but it was not long until they had their third.
VAR was utilized as Nadene Caldwell appeared to deal with while defending a corner. The referee Lina Lehtovaara offered a penalty after an evaluation and Graham Hansen made no mistake to put Norway 3-0 up.
Northern Ireland's manager, Kenny Shiels, disagreed with the call and stated in his post-match press conference: "The Nordic referee, who was refereeing a game involving a Nordic team, offered a penalty. I don't for one minute state it's since she was the referee, I'm just saying those statistics were there. I don't think it's proper [for a Finnish referee to organize a Norway match] I'm not blaming her for the defeat however I don't think we need to talk excessive about it since that is a side event."
Simone Magill had Northern Ireland's best possibility of the half but her rushed long-range shot smacked the advertising boards. The loudest holler of the night came just after the break when Norway failed to clear and Julie Nelson headed towards goal. Goalkeeper Guro Pettersen could not stop the ball rolling over the line to offer Shiels's side their very first major-tournament goal.
Another defensive miscommunication for Northern Ireland almost cancelled out their good work however Abbie Magee made an outstanding clearance off the line. Norway were not fazed by the fightback, however, and Reiten scored a screamer of a free-kick.
The Chelsea playmaker has been scoring wonder goals for her club all season, so this cracker won't have actually come as a surprise to WSL fans. The next action saw Hegerberg appealing for a penalty as Magee battled her to the ground however nothing was provided. The leading Champions League scorer thought she had finally got her goal in the 68th minute as she tapped in a Reiten pass, but it was disallowed.
In heartbreaking scenes Magill, who has actually just recently signed for Aston Villa, hopped off in tears. A terrible end to her match and stressing for the rest of Northern Ireland's campaign.
Shiels revealed post-match he is worried about Magill, who he said would not feature in their next match against Austria, and included: "It is her knee. I'm a football coach, not a physician, but it does not sound excellent." There was cause for concern too for Hegerberg as captain Sarah McFadden chopped her down however she was rapidly back to her feet.
Burns handled to conserve further Northern Irish blushes with three great saves in the closing stages. But it was Norway's night and they have set an onslaught in this tournament. Sarina Wiegman's side will have a battle on their hands when they face them on Monday.