Norway captain Ingvild Stensland hopes the 3-1 victory against Nordic rivals Sweden in the UEFA WOMEN'S EURO 2009™ quarter-finals will go some way to silencing the team's doubters after a difficult year in which they have struggled for results.
Bjarne Berntsen, the Norway coach, had to contend with a number of his more established players quitting the international scene once qualification had been assured and then, with a largely new-look lineup, could only watch on as the 1993 winners endured an indifferent start to the year. Prior to arriving at the final tournament, Norway won just two of their seven matches in 2009, leading some back home to dismiss their chances of making progress in Finland.
Stensland, however, insists that never at any point did the confidence among the players waver, telling uefa.com: "It's been a hard year, we lost a lot of players but we have worked hard, believed in ourselves all the way and today we've succeeded. Now we are in the semi-final; many people didn't believe in us but now we are here."
Sweden had struck the crossbar and were beginning to exert a modicum of pressure on the Norway goal until Berntsen's charges managed to stun their opponents with a two-goal burst in the six minutes before half-time. Sweden coach Thomas Dennerby admitted to being taken aback by the course of events after the match, and found an unlikely ally in one of Stensland's midfield colleagues, Solveig Gulbrandsen.
"This is really crazy for us," said Gulbrandsen, Norway's nine-goal leading scorer in qualifying. "We had a good feeling before the match but when the goals came we were just laughing out there, we didn't believe it. We thought it would be a really tough game but we had it under control."
The success in Helsinki set up a last-four meeting on Monday with a rampant Germany team who inflicted a 4-0 defeat on Norway in their opening Group B fixture, three of the goals coming after the 89-minute mark. "We don't want to lose 4-0 again, we know they are a really good team," said Stensland, who was named the Carlsberg Player of the Match against Sweden. "They've been the best in the tournament so far so it will be tough. We know Germany very well and know that you cannot make mistakes against them – that's what we have to learn, that and the fact that the game lasts 93 minutes."
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