Goals from Lisa-Marie Utland and Kristine Minde gave Norway the edge over their Swedish neighbours as the two met in wintery Spain.
Starting out slow
The game started timidly, the Norwegian backline happy enough to hold the ball and pass it between themselves, looking for a non-obvious opening, the first spark of attack came when Ingrid Moe Wold lifted the ball forward from the right, a flick on from Ada Hegerberg too much for Lisa-Marie Utland to reach ahead of Hilda Carlén.
As fans had grown to expect from Pia Sundhage’s Sweden, the yellow and blues were more than happy to sit themselves and wait to hit their opposition on the counter, width playing a valuable part in the match. Elin Rubensson’s hurried cross from the by-line gave the Norwegian defence something to think about as her miss-placed pass bounced against the side-netting.
The two teams tried to chip away at each other, both Fridolina Rolfö and Sofia Jakobsson happy to press the home defence, looking to pounce on any error and nibble the ball away but for the most part the ball failed to leave midfield, neither team able to fully assert themselves on the game.
With the Sweden side reminiscent of that who went to Brazil last summer it was no surprise to see more cohesion in the yellow than red; injuries, retirements and a new manager all something that would take time to adjust to. Starting to amp up the pressure, it was an easy enough matter for the current top goalscorer in the D1F to rise to meet an aerial ball and nod it over Ingrid Hjelmseth. The lead was short-lived however as Norway immediately restored parity from the kick-off, Utland’s delicate lob from 10 yards too much for Piteå’s number one.
Scores level once more, the ball was back with Sweden as Baglut tried to force the issue but again midfield came up against midfield, the ball rolling the away of the Football Girls. A little bit of persistence from Ada Hegerberg opened the door on the left, her neat cross enough to catch both Carlén and Linda Sembrant out but as Kristie Minde connected with the errant ball to roll it into the waiting net.
Again the shifting pendulum swung as Sweden got forward, Hjelmseth quick enough to pick a dangerous cross out of the air before smothering Rubensson’s effort from outside the box.
Tit for tat
Mustard yellow and ketchup red followed each other around the pitch as I realised I was rather in the mood for a hot dog, the two sides magnetised around the ball. A familial knowledge and will to play in the same way had the two level on paper but still the gaps and mistakes appeared for both. Loose passes made worse by the slick pitch, the winter break enough of an excuse for the lapses of concentration from both.
The first-half drew to a close following the pattern of Sweden attacking down the left, Rolfö’s cute cross making sure both defenders and attackers in the box where on the alert, the ball weaved through the crowd before being knocked half-clear, Lisa Dahlkvist’s 20-yard volley clearing the bar.
The second-half followed the same pattern of the first with both siders feeling each other out but playing a stalemate out for the most part, yellow shirts probing, threatening a goal but failing to make the Norwegian backline pay for their pressure. A handful of corners lofted into the box begged a better connection as the Football Girls held into their narrow lead. Fresh legs on the pitch doing little to bridge the scores.
No late drama
The game with plenty to watch, but little to say ticked into its’ final quarter, Nora Holstad Berg’s low header at a corner a tester for Carlén as Norway did all they could to relieve pressure. But still Sweden advanced, comfortable trying to break through the Norwegian lines, looking for an equaliser, spurred on by pride and bragging rights. However the lack of match-fitness showed on each side, a mistake from Carlén gifted Andrine Hegerberg but her own lack of sharpness prevented her from making a real connection with the ball.
Katrin Schmidt’s driven effort three minutes from time had Hjelmseth on her toes as she tipped the looped ball against the corner of the bar and brought it down to clear. But it was for naught, for all the possession Sweden had in the second-half, for all their pressing they couldn’t find a way through. All bark without the requisite bite.
Historically the stronger of the two in the head-to-heads, Norway’s last win over Sweden was back in 2009, maybe it was apt that it took a Swedish manager to break Baglut’s streak. Martin Sjögren starts his Norway career out with a win, the former Linköping manager with plenty to work on before the Euros but precious little time.
For Pia Sundhage, it’s back to ironing out the creases before the tournament in the Summer, happy at least to have given first caps to Hanna Glas and Katrin Schmidt.