Women’s World Cup: Norway vs England Preview

England forward Eniola Aluko. right, opened the scoring in the friendly international with Norway

Monday 22nd June – 22:00 – Lansdowne Stadium

England Women go in search of their first-ever World Cup knock-out win on Monday against Norway in Ottawa. Mark Sampson’s side finished second in Group F on goal difference after beating Colombia 2-1 in their last game, once again conceding a late goal to deny a clean sheet in Montreal. Norway were also runners-up in their group, B, but are unbeaten in Canada so far, beating Thailand and Ivory Coast, and managing a draw against tournament favourites. The Scandinavians also reached the final of the 2013 Women’s European Championships, so they certainly pose a big challenge to England, who have been improving by the game at this World Cup. The winner of this game will face Canada in the quarter-finals, which in no offence to the hosts, gives a very winnable path to the last four. You can see if the Lionesses can do it by tuning in to BBC Three at 9:30 this evening, with kick-off half an hour later.

England Team News

  • Mark Sampson has said he will strike a careful balance between attack and defence against Norway, having seen his team produce their most fluid performance in their last group game against Colombia.
  • The Welshman, who has used all 20 outfield players so far, says he has a fully fit squad to choose from, and introduced Jodie Taylor for the final nine minutes against Colombia after she had knee surgery eight weeks ago.
  • Full-back Alex Scott said that England had been practising spot-kicks since they started their training camp at St Georges Park on 12 May. They went out of the last World Cup on spot-kicks to France four years ago.

The Key Battle: Maren Mjelde vs Fran Kirby

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An ever present during qualifying for Norway, Maren Mjelde can play anywhere across the defence, but has more recently become a regular right-back. She was rested in the last group game against Thailand so should be fit and raring to go against England.

The 25 year old has 89 international caps and 10 goals, one of which came against Germany in the group stage – a stunning free-kick which is one of the tournament’s best goals so far.

Fran Kirby has also scored a very good goal in Canada, but of a different kind, showing great composure and skill to poke the ball home and give England the lead against Mexico in Moncton.

After the match, Mark Sampson labelled the Reading star ‘mini Messi’, placing huge pressure on her shoulders.

It’s a title she didn’t quite live up to again against Colombia, but Kirby has the potential to create a chance out of nothing and is clinical in front of goal. This means that if she is on her best form, then the 21 year old will be England’s danger woman.

Last Meeting: England 1-1 Norway (17th January 2014)

eni-aluko-vs-norway

Melissa Bjaneso’s 87th minute header denied England victory in Mark Sampson’s first game in charge. The friendly was held in La Manga, Spain, and it took the Lionesses just 10 minutes to take the lead, as Eni Aluko’s deflected shot found its way past debutant Norwegian goalkeeper Cecile Fiskarstrand. Jordan Nobbs, Fara Williams and Lianne Sanderson all registered decent efforts at goal for England, but were made to rue them as Bjaneso scored following a corner with three minutes to go.

The Norway Lowdown

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  • Manager: Even Pellerud
  • Captain: Trine Bjerke Rønning
  • World Ranking: 11th
  • Best World Cup Performance: Winners (1995)

Star Player – Ada Hegerberg

Playing as a lone striker, 19 year old Ada Hegerberg thrives for Norway and certainly has a huge future ahead of her with 19 goals in 38 international appearances already. So far at the World Cup she has three goals, the joint second most in the tournament, and is full of confidence following a superb season at club level as well. Hegerberg signed for Lyon last summer, and notched 26 goals for the French side who won both Division 1 Féminine and Coupe de France Féminine.

Strengths

Major international tournaments are Norway’s strength. World champions in 1995, twice European Championship winners and once Olympic gold medallists, they have the mastermind of the 1995 triumph, Even Pellerud, back in charge. Pellerud also led them to the inaugural World Cup final in 1991, where they lost to the USA. They’ve shown they can keep the big guns at the bay, drawing 1-1 with Germany during the group stage.

Weaknesses

Caroline Hansen was their top scorer in qualifying with eight goals, but has been forced to withdraw from the finals squad due to injury, increasing the pressure on Hegerberg’s young shoulders upfront. The absence of midfield anchor Ingvild Isaksen could also prove a major loss. They don’t have much of a plan B if their usual 4-3-3 doesn’t work, so if England can get the better of the tactic, they could be onto a winner, but so far no one has really done that.

My Prediction: Norway 2-3 England (AET)

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I’m predicting a very close game between the two sides, as both squads are evenly matched and have players who can cause each other problems. I think the Norwegians will take the lead through Ada Hegerberg before Eni Aluko equalises, but then the Lionesses could be pegged back again by Solveig Gulbrandsen. This time they might leave it late to equalise, but Toni Duggan will do so. This will send the game to extra time, and more out of hope than expectation, I’m going to say this is when England will win it with the fear of penalties looming. The goal will come from Karen Carney. It’s a heart over head prediction, so I fear I could be left disappointed.

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