Time passed quickly on the women’s side. This is bad news for Norway.
It has been nine years since the national team reached the EC final. This is longer than it sounds, because by that time women’s football had experienced decades of growth on the men’s side.
The major powers have overtaken the Nordics. The disastrous European Championship in Norway is not just about coach Martin Sjögren, but about a small nation that will over time struggle to keep up with the giants.
Norway can no longer just play party football. They have to accept their role as underdogs and outsiders, and thus make it harder to destroy.
In fact, there are similar teams that have shown how this can be solved.
And that is the Norwegian men’s national team.
Both teams have some top-class creative players, plus a striker so good we had to pinch our arms. The guys have Martin degaard and Erling Braut Haaland.
The ladies have Caroline Graham Hansen, Guro Reiten and Ada Hegerberg.
These names are constantly being drafted on both sides when it comes to being debated what Norway is Should reach. But we know what they can do. The key is the rest of the team.
Here, Ståle Solbakken has brought together layered pieces with talent, team spirit and tight structure. gentlemen can played good football, but they were first and foremost solid. As long as the defense lasts, they know that the geniuses will create something going forward.
It’s as if it was created to beat a supposedly better team. The men are now top of their group in the National League with three wins in four games.
Women need a similar strategy. As WC qualifiers resume in September, Norway will have to find a style that takes into account the distance to the best. This has been great.
We’ve seen that this summer.
The main benchmark is England, who crushed Norway 8-0 in the group. Even the English team was surprised by the level difference.
Is isn’t Norway better?
The answer must be yes, indeed. This team should can reach the quarter-finals. Criticism of Sjögren is well deserved, and it’s hard to remember how many coaches were allowed to keep their jobs after the EC with zero points and zero goals, as the Swede did in 2017.
At the same time, it’s easy to forget how fast women’s football has grown in countries like England. It’s not just Norway that has stagnated.
Many other countries have improved. Lots better.
Three great years
Let’s take a look at the balance of power between the UK and Norway over the last three years. In 2019, they met at the WC, with Sjögren as coach. England won 3-0, but the numbers behind were not so crazy for Norway.
England won on penalties 16-12. Ball possession is 50-50.
When the two teams met again in a friendly in Bergen two months later, Norway won 2-1.
Three years later, the gap has become very large. In EC, England won 26-3 shooting statistics. They had the ball 61% of the time. They finished everything after half an hour.
Naturally, England are playing at home and have a brilliant coach in Sarina Wiegman. But Norway has Hegerberg, who left in 2019. If you want to find an explanation, you have to look at a lot more than the two teams and the coach.
We have to take into account the changes in English women’s football as a whole.
Half a million new players
A lot has happened here. It was already one year before the World Cup, in 2018, England’s top league became 100 per cent professional. All clubs must provide players with contracts of at least 16 hours a week, as well as run their own academies.
In the following years, several big clubs invested in their women’s teams. Today, 11 of the 12 teams in the top leagues belong to clubs that have men’s teams in the Premier League. This generates several billion a year and can pour resources into the team. In addition, the top leagues have received sponsorships and TV deals whose value has increased dramatically.
Then you have the English Football Association.
In 2017, they started plans to increase the number of players, teams and training centers on the women’s side. Three years later, the number of teams increased by 54 percent. The number of players, regardless of age and level, reached 3.4 million.
This is an increase of half a million in three years. The more popular women’s soccer becomes, the more the country’s 56 million residents will be mobilized as fans, coaches and players.
For Norway, with 5.5 million inhabitants, it will not be easy to keep up.
Progress in Southern Europe
England is not alone.
The Netherlands are becoming a great power, as Norway suffered with a 0-7 defeat last year. France and Germany were founded. And keep an eye on southern Europe.
Spain did not reach the WC until 2015 and participated in the EC only for the fourth time. Nevertheless, they are one of the favourites, even without their two biggest stars, Alexia Putellas and Jenni Hermoso. They have 47 million inhabitants, a strong football culture and the world’s two biggest clubs in Barcelona and Real Madrid, both invested in their women’s teams.
Italy? They are far behind, but there the top division will be professional next season. Portugal reached their first tournament in 2017 and recently drew with the Netherlands in their group.
Both Italy and Portugal beat Norway in the Algarve Cup earlier this year.
And while it’s nice that Norway’s U19s reached the EC final this summer, it’s still a long way from that level to meet A’s England and Holland.
Quality at all levels
So you could say that Norway has players in some of the best teams in the world. But as some have said, some of them are fighting for permanent places, including Julie Blakstad (Manchester City), Frida Maanum (Arsenal) and Ingrid Syrstad Engen (Barcelona).
In the Norwegian defence, Maren Mjelde has not started a league game for Chelsea since his injury. Against Austria, he played with Blakstad, Tuva Hansen, Guro Bergsvand and goalkeeper Guro Pettersen. The last three played in Norway’s Toppserien.
Although Toppserien is developing, it is far behind the big leagues in Europe. There was no Norwegian team in the Mesterligaen last season.
In the European Football Association league rankings, based on their tournament results over the last five years, Norway is in 12th place, behind Iceland and Kazakhstan.
In comparison, England have top players in all divisions. Even Austria have three players from the Premier League, plus six of the top three teams in Germany.
Stars in the eyes
As such, it’s easy to get a star in the eyes of names like Hegerberg, Hansen and Reiten, without taking into account that the rest of the team has to stick together.
This becomes very bad when the organization becomes weak like in EC.
So Norway had to adapt to this new world. It would be impossible for the national team to lose 8-0. The match against the greats should be enough for the stars to decide.
Something must happened, because it couldn’t go on like this. It doesn’t get any easier. And it couldn’t be much worse.
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