Despite Norway's proud record in the game with Olympic, world and continental titles, their run to the UEFA Women's EURO 2013 final last July was something of a surprise – but it ended in heartbreak with a 1-0 loss to Germany, whose goalkeeper Nadine Angerer saved two penalties.
However, the Norwegians soon recovered to start 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup qualifying in style, beating Belgium 4-1, Albania 7-0, the Netherlands 2-1 and Greece 5-0 to take control of Group 5. With the dream of lifting the trophy 20 years on from their previous triumph in Sweden – when like now they were coached by Even Pellerud, who returned before UEFA Women's EURO – they will be a step closer if they win in Belgium to overhaul the current joint leaders on Thursday. Midfielder Ingvild Isaksen and defender Maren Mjelde, colleagues since youth level, spoke to UEFA.com.
UEFA.com: What are your feelings about the Germany final now, nearly a year on?
Ingvild Isaksen: The tournament was great, except we are still disappointed about the final, but we are also very proud of what we did. It was beyond our expectations, but we're still thinking about that last game and those two penalties that we didn't score.
Maren Mjelde: It was a great performance but, you know, we had a good chance to win that game and I'm a bit disappointed. But, of course, I'm more happy that we did so well and got a silver medal – that's really good.
UEFA.com: Maren, what did it mean to be picked in the all-star squad of the tournament?
Mjelde: I played in a new position in the EUROs – I had never played as a right-back before, I have always played as a central defender or a midfielder. But Even told me two days before the Iceland game: "OK, we're going to try you as a right-back," and I said: "OK, I will do it." And of course I started a bit uncertainly but then I just played better and better, I felt, in the tournament. It was really cool for me and, yes, it gave me a lot of confidence to get into the all-star team, that was good for me.
UEFA.com: What difference did Even Pellerud's return make?
Isaksen: He brought a new spirit to the squad. We were kind of down low, we didn't have so much 'go' in the group, and when he came we just had a whole new go in the group. And when you have the spirit you also perform well. So I think that was kind of the key factor when he came.
Mjelde: We didn't know him so well but we knew he had had some good results with the national team, with Norway and subsequently with Canada. So I felt the competition in the team was also growing stronger, and nobody knew who was going to play, everybody had to do their best in every training session.
I felt we were stronger after he came and I still feel we are really strong. And we also showed that in World Cup qualifying – we have been doing really well, we haven't lost, and we won against Belgium and against the Netherlands away, that's really strong, Yes, we are on our way to the World Cup.
UEFA.com: And can you win it, like in 1995?
Mjelde: Anything can happen in a championship, we showed that in the EUROs. We were not favourites but we almost did go the whole way to win.
Isaksen: I think maybe our goals are a little lower than that, because in a tournament anything is possible – we saw that in the European Championship. If we are at our best we can beat anyone. So of course if we go to the World Cup, we hope to perform at a high level.
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