Olympique Lyonnais midfielder Ingvild Stensland could be forgiven a sense of déjà vu when she faces France in Norway's final Group B game at UEFA WOMEN'S EURO 2009™ on Sunday.
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Olympique Lyonnais midfielder Ingvild Stensland could be forgiven a sense of déjà vu when she lines up against France in Norway's final Group B game at UEFA WOMEN'S EURO 2009™ on Sunday.
Almost half the France team who started their opening game against Iceland play their club football alongside the 28-year-old Norway captain, who helped Lyon reach the UEFA Women's Cup semi-finals last season. However, the smiles and handshakes before the match will be swiftly consigned to history when the whistle blows at the Helsinki Football Stadium, as Bjarne Berntsen's side chase a place in the quarter-finals.
"I'm looking forward to playing against my team-mates from Lyon, but when the game starts I won't focus on them; I'll focus on Norway and our goals for the game," Stensland said. France were convincing winners in their 3-1 comeback victory against Iceland, though they paid a high price with first-half head injuries to midfielder Corine Franco and striker Candie Herbert, neither of whom have played since. There were even some bright moments from Bruno Bini's team during a punishing 5-1 defeat by Germany, who had earlier routed the Norwegians 4-0.
"I know it's going to be tough because France have very good individuals," Stensland predicted. "They have good offensive players in Louisa Nécib and Élodie Thomis. I know them from my club team, so I'll watch them." Though qualification for the last eight is clearly Norway's objective, Stensland is also looking for a performance her side can be proud of when she returns to club duty next month. "I will show them that we in Norway can play good football as well," said the silver medallist from UEFA WOMEN'S EURO 2005™. "We've worked hard as a team, we've got three points and we have good self-confidence. We are well-prepared and looking forward to the game."
Sunday's match aside, Stensland has been impressed by the quality of the football played so far in Finland, a testament in her view to the development of the women's game in Europe in recent years. Like many, she sees Russia, whose teenagers in 2005 won the UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship and whose seniors took a 2-0 lead against England on Friday before losing 3-2, as one example of that progress. "I think the quality is very good now," she said. "Before, there were maybe four or five good teams in Europe and now there are 12 very good teams. And there have been some unexpected results. Italy beat England, Russia were very good [against England], so it's exciting. And it's good for women's soccer."