In a brutal beatdown, Norway beat Nigeria 3-0 in Reims.
With France setting the pace in Group A with a huge 4-0 opening day win, Norway followed suit with a spectacular 3-0 demolition of the African champions. What did we learn?
1. No Ada? No Problem!
Ada Hegerberg is the best player in the world. She is a footballing phenomenon. Since she joined Lyon five years ago she has won Ligue 1 five times, the Coupe de France four times and the Champions League final the last four years on the spin, scoring five goals across the four finals. She is utterly, ridiculously, impossibly good… and she’s not playing for Norway at the World Cup.
Why? Only she really knows why, but she has intimated it’s to do with the way the Norwegian women’s side are treated in terms of exposure, access to facilities and payment when compared to the men’s side.
It’s a reasonable case for her to make given the the Norwegian women have won two European championships, one Olympic Gold and a World Cup. Meanwhile the best the Norwegian men have managed is the round-of-16 in the World Cup, twice. Hegerberg’s case, taking a stand over issues that concern Norway’s women but could have much wider-reaching implications for the women’s game in general, is one that demands both focus and respect.
Also notable though, is that without Hegerberg, coach Martin Sjogren appears to have constructed a really solid side. Norway showed against Nigeria that they can put out a really solid defence who, even though they allow space out wide, have the defensive power to clear any crosses that come into the box. One which has the organisation to stop counter-attacks dead in their tracks and the attacking invention to carve teams apart. Sure, they got a bit of help from a self-destructive Nigeria, but they punished their opponent’s mistakes with ruthless efficiency.
2. Ebi’s errors costs Nigeria
It’s Onome Ebi’s fifth World Cup playing for Nigeria, she made her debut all the way back in 2003 when Norway’s opening scorer Guro Reiten was just nine years old. To have achieved such longevity is a remarkable achievement and should be praised.
But you have to wonder if Ebi would be better sitting the tournament out? Her leadership and experience are obviously valuable but maybe don’t have her actually on the pitch? The 36-year-old was almost literally at fault for all three of the goals Norway scored.
First she tried to block Guro Reiten’s shot with a really tame effort, causing the ball to ricochet off her into the back of the net. But hey you could have called that bad luck and got on with it. Then, however, she was waaaaay out of position and basically begged Reiten to pass through to Lisa Marie Utland who finished with devastating effect.
Finally, she pushed high up the field to try and win the ball only to spoon an awful clearance into the air. The ball was played into the space she vacated and when the cross came in, poor Osinachi Ohale scored an own goal trying to cover for her veteran partner.
3. Hjelmseth a rock of experience
While Onome Ebi looked every one of her 36 years against Norway, Ingrid Hjelmseth instead defied her 39 years to put in a colossal performance in goal for Norway. Hjelmseth is the second oldest player at the tournament but you’d never know it from watching her.
Hjelmseth commanded her area with fearsome authority. Every time Nigeria would put dangerous crosses in it was Hjelmseth who would be quick off her line to grab or punch the ball clear. The Nigerian strikers could barely manage a header.
She took so much pressure off her young defenders that you almost wonder if Norway purposefully funnelled Nigeria into wide areas knowing that Hjelmseth could deal with their crosses. This theory gets more validity when you realise the only time she showed weakness was on the deck when Asisat Oshoala was able to skip around her fairly easily.
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4. Fearless Franny gives Super Falcons some hope
Nigeria were devastated by a Norway side that seemed to have all the answers on how to beat them, but they should still have hope for the rest of the tournament. For one, they play South Korea next and could end up facing France when the hosts have already qualified.
For two, they have Franny Ordega. The 25-year-old winger who is an absolute sensation (and not just because she has super cool hair). Ordega is one of those players who, when they get the ball, you can literally hear the crowd get more excited. The sound of fans standing up, of eyes widening, throats roaring. They know they their team has a chance now, because of her.
Ordega roared past whatever player Norway put in front of her and was a constant outlet for the side. In the early going this looked like it was going to win Nigeria the game but then Norway’s excellent press cut off her service. She still shone though, in those brief moments where she gets the ball. Ordega (and Asisat Oshoala) has so much talent that you cannot help but feel that Nigeria still have a chance.
5. Caroline Graham Hansen is box office
Frenkie de Jong isn’t the only sensational player who will be joining Barcelona after their incredible summer exploits with their national side, and he’s certainly not the most decorated. Caroline Graham Hansen absolutely lit up Norway’s opening win with her fantasy football.
Hansen was simply untouchable from a defensive point of view. She completed a staggering nine of 13 take-ons, which is by a distance the most dribbles anyone has completed so far. Watching her was like watching a crystal refract light into a myriad of colours; you know what you’re watching has a mundane explanation but you feel as though you’re watching magic.
Nigeria couldn’t lay a glove on Hansen and the way she danced through the defence to set-up Guro Reiten for the opening goal was the kind of thing childhood fantasies are made of: taking a short corner then dribbling up the by-line, destroying your marker and then laying it on a plate for the striker. Only she did it in a World Cup.
Caroline Graham Hansen completed nine take-ons against Nigeria, at least four more than any other player has managed in a single #FIFAWWC game so far this summer.
Dancing through defences. ? pic.twitter.com/sx13dESguq
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) June 8, 2019
She’s won each of the last three Frauen-Bundesliga titles (and the last five DFB-Pokals!) and having missed the last World Cup through injury, she is extra determined to make her mark in France 2019. And if the opening game is anything to go by she will do that and then some. Set a reminder for all of Norway’s games; Caroline Graham Hansen just made them must-see TV!