Guro Reiten sets seal on victory as Norway sweep Northern Ireland aside

Northern Ireland had a difficult start to their first major tournament as they were emphatically beaten by Norway in their Group A match in Southampton. Martin Sjögren’s team soared to the top of the group on goal difference, knocking England off top spot following their 1-0 win over Austria on Wednesday.

“It was a relief after the last Euros, it was a disaster for us. We didn’t even score a goal [in 2017],” player of the match Caroline Graham Hansen said. “To be able to bounce back and get a good start, it was important for everyone. I think everyone who was there in 2017 felt the relief when we scored the first goal.” Graham Hansen showed that Northern Ireland were in for a tough evening in the early stages. She beat multiple defenders to run half the pitch and feed Guro Reiten, whose attempt went over the bar. The chances just kept coming with shots from Frida Maanum and Ada Hegerberg.

Northern Ireland needed a defensive fortress to try to gain a point but it was not long until Norway scored. In the tenth minute the ball was worked well to Julie Blakstad, who sliced it into the bottom left corner. Northern Ireland looked to strike back quickly but Rachel Furness’s long-range attempt went begging and the team’s night went from bad to worse.

A defensive horror show allowed Maanum to pounce. Goalkeeper Jacqueline Burns played a short ball to Chloe McCarron but it came in the path of Hegerberg. The Lyon forward tapped a pass to Arsenal’s Maanum who doubled their lead. Maanum continued to be lively with another thundering hit going just wide and winning a corner. Hegerberg came close with a header from it but it was not long until they had their third.

VAR was employed as Nadene Caldwell seemed to handle while defending a corner. The referee Lina Lehtovaara gave a penalty after a review and Graham Hansen made no mistake to put Norway 3-0 up.

Northern Ireland’s manager, Kenny Shiels, disagreed with the call and said in his post-match press conference: “The Nordic referee, who was refereeing a game involving a Nordic team, gave a penalty. I don’t for one minute say it’s because she was the referee, I’m just saying those statistics were there. I don’t think it’s appropriate [for a Finnish referee to take charge of a Norway match]. I’m not blaming her for the defeat but I don’t think we should talk too much about it because that is a side event.”

Simone Magill had Northern Ireland’s best chance of the half but her rushed long-range shot smacked the advertising boards. The loudest roar of the evening came just after the break when Norway failed to clear and Julie Nelson headed towards goal. Goalkeeper Guro Pettersen couldn’t stop the ball rolling over the line to give Shiels’s side their first major-tournament goal.

Another defensive miscommunication for Northern Ireland almost cancelled out their good work but Abbie Magee made an impressive clearance off the line. Norway were not fazed by the fightback, however, and Reiten scored a screamer of a free-kick.

The Chelsea playmaker has been scoring wonder goals for her club all season, so this cracker won’t have come as a surprise to WSL fans. The next action saw Hegerberg appealing for a penalty as Magee wrestled her to the floor but nothing was given. The leading Champions League scorer thought she had finally got her goal in the 68th minute as she tapped in a Reiten pass, but it was disallowed.

In heartbreaking scenes Magill, who has recently signed for Aston Villa, limped off in tears. A horrible end to her match and worrying for the rest of Northern Ireland’s campaign.

Shiels revealed post-match he is concerned about Magill, who he said would not feature in their next match against Austria, and added: “It is her knee. I’m a football coach, not a doctor, but it does not sound very good.” There was cause for concern too for Hegerberg as captain Sarah McFadden chopped her down but she was quickly back to her feet.

Burns managed to save further Northern Irish blushes with three great saves in the closing stages. But it was Norway’s night and they have laid down a gauntlet in this tournament. Sarina Wiegman’s side will have a battle on their hands when they face them on Monday.