For two decades Norway have been acknowledged as one of the prime forces in international women's football and Heidi Støre can take much of the credit.
The tall, powerful central midfielder made her international debut aged 16 in 1980 but her big break came seven years later when Norway qualified for the second European Competition for Women's Football. Though it was Trude Stendal who won the title for Norway with two goals in the final against Sweden, most experts acknowledged that Støre was the key player for a team that topped a group containing Germany, Denmark and Finland, and defeated Italy in the semi-finals.
"I remember the 1987 tournament well, not least because we managed to beat many established women's teams on our way to the title – three of them for the first time in Norwegian women's football history," Støre told UEFA.com. "To get to the finals we had to beat Denmark in Vejle – and beat them 5-2. That was our first win against the Danes, and we followed that up with beating Italy in the semi-final – another first. Although we played at home at Ullevaal, Sweden were favourites in the final. I remember the final was the first time the Norwegian media really made a fuss about women's football, something us players weren't used to. We really enjoyed it! We had met Sweden many times, but they were a sort of bogey team for us. We had never managed to beat them – until that day at Ullevaal. Little Trude Stendal scored both goals – and we had broken down yet another barrier."
Støre believes the coaches Erling Hokstad and Dag Vestlund played a big part in the upswing in Norwegian fortunes. "They installed a new, serious attitude to the sport, with more hours of training and more tactical awareness," said Støre, who was to win an unofficial global competition the following year, another European crown in 1993, and her personal favourite, the 1995 FIFA Women's World Cup. "In 1988, we got the first chance to play teams from another continent, and win the whole tournament," she said. "Sports-wise, my high point has to be the World Cup in Sweden in 1995. That Norway team is the best I have played with, and I believe it could hold it's own against any Norwegian women's team to date."
Two years later Støre aimed to bow out on a high in the UEFA European Women's Championship, co-hosted by Norway with Sweden. But it was not to be. "The 1997 tournament was a real let-down," she recalls. "I had spent hours in the gym trying to come back from a cruciate ligament injury, and was back just in time – and not on my best form. We played a clever Italian side in our last group game, got beaten 2-0 and were out of the tournament. I gave up international football there and then, to concentrate on playing for Nikko Securities in Japan."
Following a club career that had also taken in spells at Råde, SK Sprint/Jeløy, Sweden's FC Trollhättan and Athene FK, Støre took a break from football but has returned with a job at the Norwegian Football Federation, working with the development of the top women's clubs. Mulling over her successors' chances in Finland, she said: "European women's football has become harder and harder to predict, with many sides having more resources. Norway have to play approaching their best in every game to stand a chance. The squad is a fine mixture of youth and experience, and I think they will do well."
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