By PA Sport Staff
Northern Ireland were outclassed on their major tournament debut as Norway romped to a comprehensive 4-1 Euro 2022 victory in Southampton.
First-half finishes from Julie Blakstad and Frida Maanum, plus a Caroline Graham Hansen penalty, put the two-time European champions on course for a routine success to dampen a historic occasion for their opponents.
Defender Julie Nelson – Northern Ireland’s most-capped female player – gave the competition’s lowest-ranked nation brief hope of an unlikely comeback by heading in a landmark goal just after the interval.
But Guro Reiten’s free-kick sealed a routine success for Martin Sjogren’s side to move them level on three points with hosts England at the top of Group A.
A difficult evening for Kenny Shiels’ underdogs was compounded by forward Simone Magill – who has just moved from Everton to Aston Villa – leaving the field in tears late on due to injury.
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We have created a monster – Shiels
Northern Ireland manager Kenny Shiels felt there were positives in defeat.
After conceding twice in the opening 13 minutes they were 3-0 down at half-time but Nelson’s historic goal gave them something to cheer.
“You are not happy when you get beaten 4-1 but there are extenuating circumstances,” said Shiels.
“They were nervous for the first 25-30 minutes and you can see Hansen and (Ada) Hegerberg, how good they are they.
“We were against the two best strikers in the world and we drew the last hour of the game. If you take out the penalty kick, we actually won it.
“The scoreline was hard to take, I thought we deserved better than that but we are three years into this programme and it will take 10 years to take us into the top 20 in Europe.
“We have created a monster because we have grown too quickly and are playing against teams of this ilk. It is tough.
“If we can continue to progress then we can do it a bit quicker. We have to get real and understand this is an emerging game in Northern Ireland.”
When your country calls…
Real Sociedad striker Amaiur Sarriegi received an unexpected call-up when Alexia Putellas was ruled out of Spain’s squad with a knee injury.
The 21-year-old had been in the initial training squad of 28 but did not make the final cut so headed off on holiday.
But when she was contacted and asked to immediately fly to England she dropped everything on her break at a theme park near Barcelona.
“When we called her she left everything, she wasn’t at home,” said coach Jorge Vilda.
Denmark looking to go one better
Pernille Harder hopes her Denmark team’s bond and “tactical knowledge”‘ can boost their fortunes at Euro 2022 as they prepare for their opening Group B game against Germany on Friday.
Harder will lead her side out as Denmark captain at the Brentford Community
Stadium as they aim to improve, having been runners-up in 2017.
“There are so many good teams playing in this European Championship, and Germany and Spain are two of the best, perhaps two of the favourites,” Harder told uefa.com .
“We know that on paper we are perhaps not as good as them but what we have – the team bond and the tactical knowledge – can maybe carry us a long way.”
Spain v Finland (Group B: 5pm, Stadium MK)
Germany v Denmark (Group B: 8pm, Brentford Community Stadium)