By Kevin Ashby at Halliwell Jones stadium
Norway will play Germany in their fifth UEFA European Women's Championship final after Solveig Gulbrandsen settled a titanic semi-final against Sweden in Warrington with a volleyed winner in extra time.
Norway were two minutes away from winning the game in normal time when Hanna Ljungberg poked in her second equaliser of the match, Gulbrandsen and Isabell Herlovsen having scored in each half for the Norwegians. They were not to be denied for a second time, however, as Gulbrandsen turned in Dagny Mellgren's cross in the 109th minute to ensure it is Norway who will take on the holders and favourites in Blackburn on Sunday.
Norway coach Bjarne Berntsen made one change to the side which defeated Italy 5-3 to reach this stage, recalling the experienced Unni Lehn for Trine Rønning but sticking with his favoured 4-3-3 formation. Sweden lined up as they did for the 1-0 victory against England which confirmed them as Group A winners, with goalscorer Anna Sjöström retaining her spot on the right wing.
The spearheads of Sweden's 4-4-2 system, Victoria Svensson and Ljungberg, had managed just one goal between them prior to this fixture and their desire to add to that tally was evident from the off. In the seventh minute Bente Nordby produced one of the saves of the tournament to keep out a Ljungberg header after Svensson had hooked the Norway goalkeeper's punched clearance to her strike partner.
Nordby then gathered a Sjöström shot before showing great bravery and agility to beat away Malin Moström's drive from an acute angle, Svensson having slipped her captain in with a deft reverse pass. Herlovsen and Lise Klaveness each then passed by presentable opportunities to open the scoring before Gulbrandsen did just that in the 41st minute after timing a run perfectly to escape the Swedish defence.
Ingvild Stensland's long pass from deep caught the Sweden back line cold, but not Gulbrandsen who took advantage of the time and space afforded her to calmly chip the ball over the hesitant Hedvig Lindahl. If that goal was down to opportunism, the equaliser two minutes later was pure brilliance as Ljungberg dived in front of her marker to flick a bullet header beyond Nordby.
Svensson had created that goal with her skill and persistence on the byline, only to take a blow to her right leg soon after half-time which forced Domanski-Lyfors to replace her with Lota Schelin. Chances had been at a premium following the restart when Herlovsen restored Norway's advantage in the 65th minute, expertly heading Gulbrandsen's exquisite left-footed cross from the right over Lindahl.
Norway showed commendable endeavour to push in search of a killer third goal and were so nearly rewarded in the 74th minute when Marit Fiane Christensen charged in to meet a corner only for Lindahl to somehow touch the point-blank header on to the post. The save reinvigorated Sweden and Norway were suddenly on the back foot, Hanna Marklund failing to connect with a header and Nordby denying Schelin.
Sweden's tournament appeared to be over when Marianne Paulsen somehow cleared Sjöström's close-range effort while standing on the goalline, only for Ljungberg to appear to save the day. Frida Östberg chipped the ball over the Norway left-back for Schelin who calmly picked out Ljungberg with a low centre which the Umeå IK forward turned in to force extra time.
Nineteen minutes into the additional period, Ljungberg could do nothing, though, as Stensland toe-poked a ball out wide to Mellgren who whipped over a cross to the far post which Gulbrandsen volleyed past Lindahl. The goal typified the quality of a match which enthralled an enthusiastic crowd in this Rugby League heartland.