Norway coach Bjarne Berntsen admits to being surprised that his team find themselves on the cusp of the UEFA WOMEN'S EURO 2009™ final having opened their campaign by losing 4-0 to the country they meet in the last four, Germany.
Berntsen, who led Norway to the 2005 final against Germany in his first year in charge but will step aside for Eli Landsem after the tournament, watched his side concede on three occasions at the death on Matchday 1, having so nearly equalised in the 89th minute. A fortnight on, his charges have a chance to right the wrongs of that day in Tampere when they tackle the holders at the Helsinki Football Stadium.
"Maybe it's a bit surprising that after our opening game we are still here but we're very much looking forward to the game and for sure we hope to be better opponents for Germany than we were in the first match," said Berntsen, whose squad has since watched a re-run of their opening encounter. "Hopefully we have learned a lot. Even though it was only 1-0 until the 90th minute, in parts of the game we were totally outplayed and it was only through good defending and our very good goalkeeper [Ingrid Hjelmseth] that it was close until the end."
Teenage striker Cecilie Pedersen, a late substitute that day, added to her winner against Iceland in the group stage with Norway's third goal in the 3-1 quarter-final defeat of Sweden, three minutes after coming on. Berntsen, however, would not be drawn on whether the 18-year-old will start, merely saying "you will see tomorrow". His opposite number, Silvia Neid, was just as noncommittal when asked who will replace injured centre-back Ariane Hingst, out of the finals with a knee injury sustained against Italy in the quarter-finals. "We've already reached a decision but I want to tell the players first," she said. "There might be some other players coming in but I'm not going to reveal anything."
Hingst's injury will prompt Neid to reshuffle a backline which has remained largely unchanged so far, providing the coach with her first real quandary of the finals. Neid, however, is unconcerned, saying: "I selected my players because of their flexibility and every player knows what they have to do. They know each other very well."
Neid has demanded more aggression than was on display against Italy and has warned her players about the importance of the first goal. "If Norway score first it will be very difficult because they will drop back," she added. "Sweden tried everything to score in the second half but only managed one goal against a disciplined defence."
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