Northern Ireland were outclassed on their debut in a major tournament as Norway clinched a comprehensive 4-1 win at Euro 2022 in Southampton.
First-half goals from Julie Blakstad and Frida Maanum, plus a Caroline Graham Hansen penalty, gave the two-time European champions a routine win to dampen a historic event for their opponents.
Defender Julie Nelson – Northern Ireland’s all-time cap – gave the competition’s bottom-ranked nation brief hopes of an unlikely comeback by scoring a striking goal just after the break.
But Guro Reit’s free-kick sealed a routine success for Martin Sjögren’s side to draw level with hosts England at the top of Group A by three points.
A difficult evening for Kenny Shiels outsiders was compounded by striker Simone Magill – who has just joined Aston Villa from Everton – leaving the field in tears late due to injury.
After a record-breaking attendance of 68,871 at Old Trafford on Wednesday night’s championship opening game, a more modest crowd of 9,146 turned up in the sunshine of St Mary’s, with a sizeable contingent from each nation.
Norway – winners of that competition in 1987 and 1993 – twice beat their opponents 6-0 in qualifying and quickly had Northern Ireland staring at the barrel of another rout by capitalizing on a series of defensive mistakes.
Manchester City midfielder Blakstad secured the opener in the 10th minute by beating goalkeeper Jackie Burns with a deep left-footed shot at her near post after right-back Abbie Magee was caught well out of position.
Arsenal player Maanum quickly doubled the lead.
She dispatched Chloe McCarron just short of the Northern Ireland 18-yard box on a poorly executed goal kick and was then left with an easy finish into an unguarded net after recovering the ball from the disinterested Ada Hegerberg.
The one-way traffic continued while the Shiels team showed a spirit of enterprise during the break.
Burns made two good saves before 2018 Ballon d’Or winner Hegerberg missed two golden chances to extend the lead, including refusing a tap-in when Magee atoned for her earlier mistake with an excellent final block.
Cut open on a regular basis, Northern Ireland once again contributed to their own downfall as the game effectively ended as a contest in the 31st minute.
VAR intervened after Nadene Caldwell inexplicably handled the ball inside her own box from a sharp corner, allowing impressive Barcelona star Hansen to confidently send the resulting penalty past plunging Burns’ fingertips.
Shiels, whose squad consists of 13 part-time players, responded to a difficult early spell by signing veteran captain Marissa Callaghan for her first cap since injuring a toe in May.
The change helped spark an immediate response.
Rachel Furness smashed the ball back across the box after Norway botched a corner and centre-back Nelson, 37, claimed a small piece of history by nodding across the line despite efforts from goalkeeper Guro Pettersen.
The goal was greeted stormily by the loud green and white army in the stands.
But thoughts of an unlikely comeback were quickly extinguished when Chelsea winger Reit restored the three-goal lead by repelling Burns with a low free-kick from 20 yards out.
An offside flag later denied Hegerberg a spot on the scorers list before the devastated Magill walked away in visible distress after an awkward fall.
Northern Ireland will try to recover on Monday when Austria visits St Mary’s while Norway travels down the south coast for a tantalizing showdown with Sarina Wiegman’s Lionesses in Brighton.
https://www.independent.ie/sport/soccer/northern-ireland-open-womens-euro-2022-campaign-with-heavy-defeat-to-norway-41823449.html Northern Ireland opens the 2022 European Women’s Championship with a heavy loss to Norway