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Norway may have hinted at a return to their glory days by reaching the UEFA WOMEN'S EURO 2005™ final, but four years on their build-up to the next continental showpiece has not gone totally smoothly.
Having drawn 0-0 in Russia last October to book their place in Finland, 2007 FIFA Women's World Cup bronze-medallists Norway were hit by the surprise international retirement of Marit Fiane Christensen, Guro Knutsen, Marie Knutsen, Lene Mykjåland and Siri Nordby. Perhaps that has been reflected in their results this year, as they lost to Sweden, Iceland, Denmark and the United States before a narrow 2-0 win against Austria, and they face another tough friendly in England on Thursday.
Still in the squad is the sole survivor from the 2000 Olympic-winning selection, playmaker Solveig Gulbrandsen, and she remains bullish ahead of the start of their EURO campaign, a 2005 final rematch with Germany in Tampere on 24 August. "I think every team is getting better and it's getting harder," Gulbrandsen told uefa.com. "I think we are getting better, I think we are developing. We have a lot of new players and a lot of young players and I think we are trying to start from the ground up and are developing now. We have lost a lot of games but we are losing by less and less each game, so I think we are getting better."
Germany and Norway have a long rivalry, and Gulbrandsen – who has scored 40 goals in 132 international games – is looking forward to the next instalment in Finland. "It's a tough start for sure," the 29-year-old said. "But it went well last time we started against them [a narrow 1-0 loss in 2005], so I think it's good to start hard, so you know where the standard is and you can go from there. So I think it's good to start with a good team."
Also in Group B are a side Norway pipped to the 2005 semi-finals, France, and newcomers Iceland – who won their dress rehearsal 3-1 at the Algarve Cup in March. "We had France last time in EURO 2005 as well," Gulbrandsen said. "We always play OK against France, but we have never beaten them so much. [Iceland,] we know what they are good at. They like set-pieces, they work really hard and play with their hearts outside the shirt so we know what to expect. But this time we have a new team and we are trying a lot of things, so we can evaluate it now. We will be ready in August and September."
Although Norway did not want for support in England when they took on Germany, France and others four years ago, the fact these finals are in Finland is something Gulbrandsen relishes. "It's been a long time since a tournament has been so close to Norway," the Stabæk FK player said. "So I hope this time plenty of Norwegians will come and support us."
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