Norway surprised many by ending as UEFA WOMEN'S EURO 2005™ runners-up, but they were worthy finalists.
By Paul Saffer
Several teams were mentioned in the pre-UEFA WOMEN’S EURO 2005™ speculation about Germany's likely final opponents - it was taken as read that the holders would reach the Blackburn showpiece.
Sweden, defeated by the Germans in the 2001 final and again in the 2003 FIFA Women's World Cup decider, maybe talented France, or even the fast-improving Danes. Mentioned less often were Norway.
Prinz tips Norway
Having needed a play-off to even qualify, they played six 2005 friendlies against fellow EURO contenders, losing four and winning just one. However, Birgit Prinz, who can claim some expertise in this competition, told uefa.com: "I would not be too shocked if our opener against Norway turned out to be the final as well."
Germany won that game 1-0, and Norway trailed France by the same score an hour into their second Group B fixture. Had that been the result, their campaign would have been over, but on came Isabell Herlovsen, 16, to equalise and ten days later Prinz was indeed "not too shocked".
There is no doubt that the turning point was the introduction of Herlovsen and Lise Klaveness during the second half against France. The pair then started against Italy with their team needed a win, with Klaveness scoring twice and Herlovsen proving a constant menace in a 5-3 victory. They still needed Germany to beat France, but to the delight of the Norway fans in Preston when news filtered through, the holders struck three late goals.
Norway were outsiders against Sweden in the semi-finals, but the public in Warrington had taken to the side and were rewarded as Solveig Gulbrandsen made it 3-2 in extra time to settle an encounter high on excitement.
Ultimately, Germany again proved a step too far. Norway, who started with an understandably tired Herlovsen on the bench, rallied after conceding two early goals, pulling one back through Dagny Mellgren and Stine Frantzen having an effort chalked off for offside. Prinz settled the match in the second half, leaving Norway with runners-up medals and pride to show for their fortnight in England.
Gulbrandsen told uefa.com: "I am happy for the team that we had a very good tournament as no one thought that we could do this." The playmaker was probably the pick of Norway’s squad, possibly of any in England, continually probing in midfield along with Ingvild Stensland, providing killer balls for the likes of Klaveness, Herlovsen and Mellgren. The No8 even scored three goals, including two against Sweden.
Mellgren, whose tournament goal tally was two, said of the moment she so nearly turned the final: "They got two goals and then we got one. We kept going and going, but I think Germany were really good today. People back home have been watching and celebrating with us. We are delighted we got so far and we had a really good response."
Berntsen, who took over as coach only months before kick-off, can take much credit for his own contribution, proving able to mould the team into a different shape depending on which task lay ahead. The former Norwegian international also deserves plaudits for his bold decision to promote the daughter of another, Kai Erik Herlovsen, at such a tender age.
Italy as well as Ukraine, Serbia and Montenegro and Greece now wait in Norway’s 2007 World Cup group, and with only evergreen goalkeeper Bente Nordby over the age of 30 in their EURO squad, Berntsen's team have a bright future. As Gulbrandsen warned: "We'll be back."