Current Olympic champions Norway got their challenge for the UEFA Women's Championship title off to the best possible start as they beat France 3-0 at the Donaustadion in Ulm. In an exciting match, set against the backdrop of the River Danube, Norway's balance of power and flair saw them ease to victory in the Group B encounter.
Rit Sandaune gets the better of France's Angelique Roujas in their UEFA Women's Championship match (©EPA)
Norway began the match without star striker Marianne Pettersen in attack following her decision to remain in London with club side Fulham FC rather than travel to Germany with her international colleagues. Anne Kristin was also missing from the squad after retiring from international football at the end of the qualifying matches. France were at full strength and opted to use Anne Zénoni and Marinette Pichon up front, while Stéphanie Mugneret-Beghe played the holding role in midfield.
End to end
The opening exchanges saw the game swing from end to end, with the onus firmly on attack from both sides. Norwegian forward Ragnhild Gulbrandsen sent a glancing header narrowly wide in the third minute, before Sandrine Soubeyrand fired a vicious free kick just over the crossbar at the other end.
Norway opened the scoring in the 14th minute with a move straight from the training ground. Bente Kvitland launched a long throw into the area, Gulbrandsen flicked the ball on and Monica Knudsen was on hand to rifle the ball past a helpless Corinne Lagache in the French goal. Lagache was beaten again just four minutes later, when Emmanuelle Sykora headed Kvitland's long ball over her keeper and into her own net.
France pushed hard for a route back into the game, but Norway's central defensive partnership of Gøril Kringen and Anne Tønnessen stood firm and smothered many of their opponents' attacks. Norway then extended their lead five minutes before half time. Linda Ørmen burst into the penalty area and saw her effort saved by Lagache, but Dagny Mellgren raced onto the rebound to ram the ball home from three metres.
Elisabeth Loisel sent on Hoda Lattaf in place of Anne Zénoni at the start of the second half in a bid to add power to France's forward line and her physical dominance almost saw her side grab a goal. She surged through the midfield in the 65th minute and laid the ball off neatly to Angélique Roujas, but her cross was met with a weak header by Mugneret-Beghe and Norwegian 'keeper Bente Nordby gathered with ease. Nordby, winning her 100th cap, was a spectator for much of the match, while her opposite number Lagache was regularly called into action to deny Mellgren and Gulbrandsen.
Despite an improved French performance in the second half, Norway were rarely troubled and seldom looked likely to concede. They may still have two group games remaining, but their billing as realistic title challengers looks increasingly justified.
Player of the match: Stépanie Mugneret-Beghe (France)
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