When the final whistle sounded at the Helsinki Football Stadium on Monday it not only called time on Norway's run to the semi-finals of UEFA WOMEN'S EURO 2009™, it also signaled the end of an era.
That is because, four years after guiding Norway to the 2005 final just months after his appointment, coach Bjarne Berntsen is stepping aside for Eli Landsem. This time, like then and indeed in the 2007 FIFA Women's World Cup semi-finals, the 52-year-old's pursuit of success was ended by Germany as the holders recovered from a goal down by scoring three times without reply in the second half.
The only country to have tasted glory at European, world and Olympic levels, Norway have been in a state of transition since qualification was assured last October after several established players retired from the international game. That meant Berntsen had to mould a new, youthful unit and, despite a series of indifferent results this year, the future appears bright if performances in Finland are anything to go by. "We have a lot of young players," said Berntsen. "There were two central defenders [Marita Skammelsrud Lund and Maren Mjelde] playing tonight born in '89 and there's Isabell Herlovsen in '88 and Cecilie Pedersen who was born in 1990."
The performances of 18-year-old Pedersen – the match-winner against Iceland and the scorer of the third goal in the quarter-final defeat of Sweden – have been one of the enduring images of a competition in which, like those beforehand under Berntsen, Norway have reached the latter stages. "We've established ourselves in the top five of every tournament," added Berntsen, when asked to reflect on his reign. "We have one silver, two semi-finals and a quarter-final in the Olympics so we have shown that in every tournament Norway are fighting for the last four or eight places." The task now is for Landsem to keep the run going.
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