Norway, the Olympic champions, were held 1-1 by Italy in a tense and closely-fought clash in the UEFA Women's Championships and that puts their hopes of finishing on top of Group B in some doubt. Italy got off the mark early in the Stadion an der Kreuzeiche through Rita Guarino but within three minutes star striker Dagny Mellgren had fired home an equaliser.
A history of close combat between the sides added another dimension to the Reutlingen game. In 1993 Norway had taken their second European women's crown (the first time under UEFA's aegis) with a single goal victory over the Italians. In 1997 the Azurri got their revenge with the victory that removed Norway at the group stage in a tournament they hosted jointly with Sweden.
Both teams were satisfied with their opening-game victories and named unchanged line-ups. All eyes were on the Italian attack, which had tormented the Denmark defence, but first it was goalkeeper Giorgia Brenzan demanding attention as she was twice forced to gather under pressure as Norway came forward in numbers. Her handling and concentration enabled the Italian goal to hold firm.
Norway knew they would have to wary of the pace Italy possess in forward positions and in the 13th minute they were undone as Patrizia Panico sent in her partner Rita Guarino behind the defence. The finish was cleverly steered away from Bente Nordby.
Norway, sharing with Germany the burden of favourites at this event, were badly stung and almost hit back a minute later as Ragnhild Gulbrandsen headed a firm cross from Dagny Mellgren just too high.
It was a pointer to what would follow almost immediately, the 16th minute bringing the Norwegian equaliser and a reversal of the earlier combination as Gulbrandsen held up the ball before laying it into the path of Mellgren who fired home off a post.
Norway were strong on both flanks and they began to dominate with increasing assurance. Mellgren's qualities down the right are well known and on the opposite flank Linda Örmen was supplying a stream of telling crosses. After absorbing a lot of pressure Italy could even have gone in at the break ahead as they caught Norway unguarded only for Panico to blaze over.
The physical battle between Panico and Guarino and their Norwegian markers hotted up after the interval and Anne Tönnessen and captain Göril Kringen were both shown the yellow card for fouls. It means that Kringen will miss the final group game on Sunday. The match entered a lull with both sides locked in a battle for midfield superiority and in the 65th minute Mellgren had the chance to enliven the game once again but placed her effort wide of the left-hand upright.
Both sides made substitutions but defences remained on top. When Panico combined with Silvia Tagliacarne 14 minutes from time an Italian goal beckoned but Bente Nordby went down well to make the stop. At the other end substitute Margunn Haugenes tested Brenzan with a low drive and the loose ball was then scrambled away.
The result means that France, with no points, are eliminated, and with Italy facing them in the final group fixture on Sunday they will be hopeful of winning the group. Should Italy win that game and Denmark beat Norway then the Norwegians would be on their way home.
Player of the match: Dagny Mellgren (Norway)
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