Norway continued to struggle again Belgium as they had done in their opening game of Euro 2017, the Red Flames able to use their near-home advantage to get their better of thier off-colour opposition and heat up the race for quarter-final qualification.
Red Flames get things heated
A ball over the top gave Tessa Wullaet something to head on and chase, her pressure enough to win a corner, Ingrid Hjelmseth tested early, her save and claim enough to settle any early nerves as the stadium rocked with noise. In what might as well have been a home game for them, Belgium found themselves spurred on by the travelling support, the fans heavily outnumbering their Norwegian counterparts, those in blue on the pitch hungry to impress and find their first points of the tournament.
A free-kick near the half-way line for a foul on Ingrid-Marie Spord brought about some Norway pressure, a corner pinged about in the Belgium box, the referee eagle-eyed to spot any deliberate handballs as the ball bounced between players. The follow-up, a header from Ada Hegerberg, over the bar giving the Red Flames time to reset. As red shirt flocked forward, combination play between Hegerberg and Kristine Minde saw the latter dink the ball into the box for Caroline Graham Hansen to run onto, her light touch enough to send the ball over both Justien Odeurs and the bar.
As Norway looked to hit cruise control and take the upper hand, Belgium came right back at them, their own golden opportunity to send the ball into the back of the net wasted. The Norway defence slash, unable to clear the ball before Wullaert floated it towards the back post, Tine De Caigny unable to make contact at the vital moment. The story the same at the other end of the pitch as Norway looked for the opener, Hegerberg’s header poor and off target from a recycled ball, Ingrid Moe Wold able to pick the Lyon woman out. Neither team at their best, both still feeling the hang-over of a first-night loss; a win imperative for both.
Another glorious chance came and went for the Grasshoppers, Hansen’s low ball in missed by Hegerberg, Odeurs’ parry dealt with by the blue shirts who were back before they countered once more. Odeurs’ involved again moments later to get a fingertip to Andrine Hegerberg’s volley, the match refusing to slow as it neared the break. Yet another ball sent across by Hansen was refused by her teammates, red crowing the away both but no one able to get to the ball at the right time.
Belgium find a way through
After the break the Football Girls continued to pile on the pressure, consistently so close to scoring, a block, save or criminal lack of finish enough to keep then out as the seconds ticked by. But just as in the first-half, Belgium weren’t willing to lay down and let Norway monopolise they best chances, Hjelmseth called into action to punch a dangerous ball clear after Elise Thorsnes had nibbled away a chances moments before. Odeurs came up trumps once more to claim a deflected Maren Mjelde free kick before Belgium finally found an opener, Elke van Grop sharp in the box to smash the ball into the roof off the net after Hjelmseth had let the ball drop from her grasp as she saved Wullaert’s initial effort though replayed suggested she clearly was offside. The noise in the stadium went up another level, the Red Flames buoyant after their first ever goal at a major tournament, Norway still struggling to create from open play.
With the wind literally and figuratively blowing in their direction, Belgium only got braves and more confident in their work, Janice Cayman’s header after the hour preventable from a Norwegian point of view but the defenders were slack, unfocused. The fans behind the goal all Belgian and full of voice and Hjelmseth got the faintest touch to the ball but could only push it into the inside of the sidenetting, another explosion of noise in Breda.
Norway did all they could to try to turn the pressure back on, the ball sent in but no matter who was in the box the contact was never there, timings out by fractions, heads beginning to drop. Conversely, Belgium only grew as the game went on, confidence running through their veins, Hjelmseth’s goal under threat, her defence still scrappy against the rampaging hosts.
The win blows Group A wide open, and opens up the chance of a three-way tie for second, only to be decided on goal difference or head-to-head form.