Teenage winger Caroline Graham Hansen has forced her way into the Norway side and ahead of UEFA Women's EURO 2013 she looks back on her debut and picks out key players.
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Caroline Graham Hansen was not even born when Norway won their most recent European title in 1993 and was just a few months old when they lifted the FIFA Women's World Cup two years later.
The coach who oversaw those successes, Even Pellerud, returned to the Norwegian helm at the end of 2012 and among his squad is 18-year-old winger Hansen. Having made her top-flight debut aged 15, and two years ago helped Norway to UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship glory, the teenager took her senior international bow early in UEFA Women's EURO 2013 qualifying against Belgium. Now Hansen looks a crucial part of a group mixing young talents like herself and Ada Hegerberg with stalwarts including Invgild Stensland and Solveig Gulbrandsen. Hansen spoke to UEFA.com.
UEFA.com: What does it mean to have this chance in the senior squad?
Caroline Graham Hansen: For me, it's a question of working hard and developing, that's what I'm focusing on. I hope I get a chance to play, that's my goal, to get to play in the EURO – it's incredibly cool that it's in Sweden. These countries have come so far in football, and it would be great to be able to be part of it, that we as a team can participate. Really cool.
UEFA.com: It is only 18 months since your debut against Belgium …
Hansen: I was incredibly nervous in the Belgium game. I came on in the last half-hour, at 0-0. It was a great experience, especially to make your debut and win. It's a great feeling, you come away with a great feeling.
The game was a bit special; I wasn't entirely sure I was going to play, and when you get the message, then you focus and really concentrate on what you have to do. You almost don't remember anything, you just go blank and do what you're supposed to. You do feel very small playing your first game with the national team. You come from a place where you are the best, and then you come into a team where there are so many that are better than you.
UEFA.com: What have you learned from the more experienced players?
Hansen: This is perhaps a bit simple, but to work hard and be humble. When you are among them and you feel what they are actually capable of, then you are humble, and it's a fact that you have to work hard for it, to be good enough on an international level. I think there are so many good players in club teams and in the national team, and I think I simply have to do my thing, because I know there are players much better than me out there, in lots of areas, and that's pushing me to carry on, to try to become a better footballer.
We all have different skills, I have mine that I'm good at, and they excel in many areas, so I'm constantly asking, trying to improve, and I always get positive feedback. I feel I've learnt a great deal, playing alongside so many great players. I'm thankful for that.
UEFA.com: Which players would you mention as being the most important for the team this summer?
Hansen: Ingrid Hjelmseth, the goalkeeper, is very important – we have a match winner in goal. That's decisive in a championship, that you have a good keeper, and we have a world-class keeper, so that's a huge advantage. If we are doing well she might not have that much to do, but she's incredibly important for the team.
And then I would think that if Isabell Herlovsen can stay free of injury she will be a good asset. And the same with Ada [Hegerberg], it depends a bit on what formation we play, but those two up front can be decisive for us, score a lot of goals, they're both goalscorers.
The captain Ingvild [Stensland] will always be outstanding, and I feel that even when she's not visible, she will always be incredibly important for our team. Those are the four players that are going to be important for us.
UEFA.com: How do you assess the other teams in your group?
Hansen: Germany are a really tough opponent. Their machinery, the way they handle the ball, and as a team they are very good tactically. It's probably going to be the toughest match, and we'll have to be very compact if we are going to stand a chance of beating them.
Iceland are a team I think we should beat. They're tough opponents, and perhaps it will be a match where we will have to control the game, and that's not always been one of our strengths. It's perhaps better for us against Germany, to be the on the receiving end. Iceland might be just as tough a game as the German one, because we will have to go forward and attack more.
And the last team is the Netherlands. I think that match is very open. Netherlands are probably a stronger team than Iceland, and that might leave more space for us to counter. I think Netherlands are the team that’s most suited to us, perhaps the second-best team with the ball, and it will give us opportunities to counterattack. Germany are very strong at the back. So perhaps Netherlands are the team most suited to us in the group.