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As Bjarne Berntsen noted in his press conference on the eve of Norway's UEFA WOMEN'S EURO 2009™ Group B encounter with Germany, there are "no secrets" between his side and the holders. Considering the number of times these two traditional giants of women's football have met in recent times, how could there be?
The prize at stake the last time they crossed paths in a major tournament was a place in the final of the 2007 FIFA Women's World Cup. Two years earlier, of course, Germany clinched their fourth consecutive European title by defeating Norway 3-1 in the UEFA WOMEN'S EURO 2005™ showpiece, the most recent of their ten meetings in the competition. Rather than contempt, however, familiarity has bred a great deal of respect where these two old foes are concerned, as Germany coach Silvia Neid attested: "Norway have always been big players in the women's game and we know they are very strong. We have a lot of respect for them.
"We are well aware that they beat a very good Sweden side 1-0 just last week and they have quality players all over the park. Some people are talking about this being a new Norway side. In some ways that's true, but they still have a lot of top players who played at the 2007 Women's World Cup, like Isabell Herlovsen, Trine Rønning, Ingvild Stensland and, of course, everybody knows about Solveig Gulbrandsen [Norway's top scorer in qualification with nine goals]. But we also know that they have some weaknesses and those are what we must exploit. We have trained hard here in Finland and everyone has been working towards this moment."
For Berntsen's young team, this match provides the perfect opportunity to show they are ready to step out of the shadow of the renowned Norway sides of the 1990s and write their own names into their country's sporting history. While Germany have question marks over the fitness of key personnel Ariane Hingst and, in particular, Simone Laudehr, Berntsen has a full compliment of players at his disposal – and he is adamant there will be "no excuses" from his side if they fail to live up to their potential.
"We've been together since 27 July and had a really good spell in our pre-tournament camp," said Berntsen. "I can say that, after four weeks together, we are very well prepared. We played a very good match against Sweden and that helped our confidence. It was good for the team after some poor results over the winter. We're also feeling very welcome here in Finland and, so far, everything has gone to plan so we can have no excuses. Now we have the match to look forward against a team with whom we have no secrets. Germany are favourites, of course, but you never know what will happen in football."
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