Norway score 15 in two games to confirm themselves as group winners as Austria seal qualification for Euro 2017 with a tense draw.
More misery for the Hawks – Norway 10-0 Kazakhstan
Norway fired out of the blocks in their penultimate group game, Ada Hegerberg giving the hosts the lead less than ten minutes in, dragging the ball across her body to beat Irina Saratovtseva at the near corner.
Two minutes after Hegerberg opened the scoring Isabell Herlovsen doubled the advantage before grabbing her second a further two minutes later after finishing off Andrine Hegerberg’s pin-point cross. Cruising at 3-0, the Grasshoppers refused to relent and debutant Stine Pettersen Reinås made it four with a tap-in after Andrine Hegerberg’s direct free kick cannoned off of the post.
Two minutes later and fellow defender and captain, Maren Mjelde added a fifth, her effort taking a fierce deflection on the way through. Not to be outdone by her teammates, a returning Caroline Graham Hansen grabbed a deserved goal (the Wolfsburg attacker a bright spark throughout), the attacker cutting into the box before firing through a crowed penalty area to tuck the ball inside of the far post. With time ticking down to half-time, Norway completed an excellent first-half as Mjelde rounded off her brace in stoppage time, the hosts in at the break seven goals to the good.
With the foot firmly off the gas in the second-half, fans at the Molde Stadion had to wait over twenty minutes after the break before celebrating another goal as Norway found their eighth of the game courtesy of Stabæk’s Ingvild Isaksen – Isaksen another in the Norway squad returning from injury, though out for considerably longer than Hansen. With the ball rolling again it took just four minutes for the home side to reach double digits, first Herlovsen completed her hat trick before Andrine Hegerberg netted her first senior goal for her country, the assist aptly coming from her sister.
Despite their dominance, the Grasshoppers had made a handful of errors throughout, Hegerberg missing an open goal for instance. With a 32 total attempts, the hosts found the target a staggering 18 times a stark contrast to Kazkhastan’s one shot (which was incidentally on target although meat and drink for Ingrid Hjelmseth). But with seven different players on the scoresheet, despite the opposition, Norway once again proved they're a force to be reckoned with.
In an entertaining and open game, Wales were the team in the ascendancy with Israel looking off the pace away from home. Helen Ward opened the scoring just after fifteen minutes, timing her run to perfection to avoid the offside trap to receive Sophie Ingle’s deep pass. As Merav Shamir dashed out in an ill-fated attempt to get to the ball first, Ward gave the home fans a lesson in composure as she slotted the ball under the Duisburg 'keeper.
Ward doubled the advantage fifteen minutes later, showing good feet to turn in a tight area after collecting Kayleigh Green’s flick, Shamir was once again picking the ball out of her net as the striker finished low into the far corner. Not to be outdone by her Reading team mate, after coming on as a substitute, Charlie Estcourt received Natasha Harding’s low pass, pulling the ball away from the defender as she spun before firing low into the far corner.
The visitors never really got going and found their feet in attack but Shamir was kept busy late as she saved Rachel Rowe’s header before saving Jess Fishlock’s 85-minute penalty.
Hegerberg shines in Finjord’s last match - Norway 5-0 Israel
In what was to be Roger Finjord’s last match in charge, Norway laboured throughout most of the first-half, failing to create and trouble Merav Shamir. Sparking into life at the end of the first period, Ada Hegerberg opened the scoring just before the break, running across her marker to side-foot the ball into the far corner from close range.
Her second a similar story, the ball whipped in from the right as the Lyon attacker raced onto it, sending the ball across goal and into the far corner. Her nine-minute hat trick completed as Shamir’s parry dropped to her, unmarked on the right side of the goal, barely having to move to tap the ball into the waiting net.
Fresh off the bench of her senior debut, 21 year-old Vilde Bøe Risa added a fourth from a narrow angle to leave the visitors trudging towards the centre circle once more. With ten minutes left on the clock, Isabell Herlovsen rounded off the match and Norway’s qualifying with a swell struck shot from outside the box. The Grasshoppers imperious in the second-half, finding the target with half of their 22 attempts.
Scoreless in Newport – Wales 0-0 Austria
With Austria needing just a point for qualification, Das Team were geared up for the biggest game in their history, unfortunately the visitors had clearly let the gravity of the match get to them. Having won five of their qualifying games, netting 14 times and conceding just four times with a credible draw and tight 1-0 loss to group toppers, Norway, Austria had proved their mettle throughout qualifying.
It came as a surprise when Wales took the reins in the match, the visitors unable to really get going, Manuela Zinsberger the busier of the two keepers, saving all the hosts could put on target in a strong first-half. Stirred up at half-time, the visitors had the best of the second-half, not letting Wales run over them and pushing the hosts back into their own half for large swathes of the half. With better possession but still unable to work Laura O'Sullivan, the final ball still very much absent for the visitors.
Again, far from vintage at Rodney Parade but Austria did well to ride out the home pressure especially in the last ten minutes when they were visibly tiring and held out for the lone point that assured their qualification.
The final picture
There was never any doubt that Norway would be group leaders and the Grasshoppers made steady progress with a slip-up against Austria in Oslo, arguably out-played by their fearless visitors. Scoring 17 in their subsequent last three games Norway made sure to finish qualification on a high.
With a wealth of talent, old and young, in the squad, the new coach will have little over half a year to get the team at its’ very best for Holland. With the right management, the Grasshoppers should be causing consistent upsets for the world’s best.
The surprise package of the group was Austria, ranked second highest in the group (FIFA world ranking: 25), most of the main team ply their trade in Germany and have been steadily improving as a unit. Consistent goal scorers in the group, they were only held in two games; their first meeting with Norway and their last game against Wales. Strong against lowly Kazakhstan and Israel as well as an improving Wales team, the bigger test awaits Austria.
After being held in Ramat Gan, Wales had it all to do in June, knowing nothing but a win against Norway in Newport would suffice. Strong in defence but ultimately undone by an Ada Hegerberg brace after the hour, Jayne Ludlow’s side were resolute, they wouldn’t be going to Holland but they were going to stay the course and put in two more strong performances. Taking a credible four points from their last two games, Wales’ story is one of steady improvement, the Dragons promising big things in the future.
Far from being world leaders in football, Kazakhstan showed strong improvement throughout qualifying, gaining four places in FIFA ranking they currently sit 67 in the rankings and had a mixed qualifying.
After back-to-back losses against Austria and Norway, Kazakhstan bounced back with a credible scoreless draw against Israel in Lod, after a further three successive losses The Hawks registered a solid 1-0 over Israel in Shymkent before finishing their group stages with a heavy loss to Norway. With a healthy number of the squad currently playing for BIIK Kazygurt, they’ll get to flex their muscles against AGSM Verona in their upcoming UWCL round of 32 games.
Much like Kazakhstan, no one was expecting much from Israel but the Blue and Whites failed to live up to their low expectations. Finishing dead last with just two draws from their eight games, there is clear potential in the squad but Meir Nachmias failed to get the best from his side throughout qualifying. Consistently in the mid-50s in the FIFA rankings for seven years, Israeli football feels stunted, in need of investment and time.