Last year was a difficult one for Norway but coach Eli Landsem believes their fortunes can be turned around with a more professional approach, including scholarships for top players.
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It was not a happy 2011 for Eli Landsem's Norway. They fell in the group stage of the FIFA Women's World Cup for the first time – missing out on the Olympics in the process – and made a disappointing start to UEFA Women's EURO 2013 qualifying, but rather than throwing in the towel, the coach is eager to forge ahead.
Last week, Norway began the new year with a training camp in La Manga, losing squad games against England and Sweden but giving opportunities to new players like Ingrid Moe Wold, Hege Hansen, Caroline Graham Hansen and sisters Ada and Andrine Hegerberg. "The players and the off-pitch staff are intent on revenge this year," the coach explained. "We have made some adjustments to the set-up that we hope will give us the results we want."
Landsem has also been able to hand scholarships funded by the Football Association of Norway (NFF) and the Olympiatoppen fund to key talents Emilie Haavi, Elise Thorsnes, Lene Mykjåland, Ingrid Hjelmseth, Ingvild Stensland, Isabell Herlovsen and Marita Skammelsrud Lund. "These are our key players, who we want to take the lead in training and during matches," said Landsem, who turns 50 in March. "We will also monitor them closely when they are with their clubs."
The one-time Norway international added: "We are going to demand more from the players so they can qualify for scholarships. All the players will also need to know even better how we want to play. The players will also need to train more, and train better. Football will have to come first for the players we want to build the team around."
Norway resume their EURO qualifying Group 3 campaign in Bulgaria on 31 March lying fourth having suffered defeats in Iceland and Northern Ireland. Landsem knows an improvement is needed to avoid the unthinkable: missing out on a place in the finals in Sweden.
"We need to train harder, to be able to keep up the pace at the end of matches," said Landsem, Norway's coach since 2009. "A stronger team physically will also be stronger mentally, and we need that rigour if we are to concede fewer goals. One of the things that disappointed me most in 2011 was the number of goals we let in."
The coach hopes that the younger generation of players that are coming through are ready to grab their chance. "Many young players are in the running for places, and they will need to adapt fast at this level," Landsem said. "But I welcome any extra competition for places."