Norway didn’t need Ada Hegerberg to score to secure a maiden European Women’s Championship victory on Thursday, beating tournament newcomers Northern Ireland 4-1.
Hegerberg, the Women’s Champions League all-time top scorer, put on Norway’s second Frida Maanum in the 13th minute at St. Mary’s Stadium, Southampton.
Julie Blakstad had opened the scoring three minutes earlier by beating keeper Jackie Burns at the near post with a low left-footed shot after right-back Abbie Magee was caught well out of position.
Hegerberg, the 2018 Ballon d’Or winner, squandered two chances to extend the lead, including being denied a tap-in by Magee’s final block.
But Norway’s third goal came in the 31st minute from the penalty spot after Nadene Caldwell handled the ball in his own box after an inbound corner. Caroline Graham Hansen scored from the spot beyond Burns’ diver’s fingertips.
There was a bright spot for Northern Ireland four minutes into the second half when Julie Nelson scored for the lowest-ranked team in the competition. The 37-year-old defender, who started playing when her country didn’t even have a women’s national team, headed for the net when Norway missed a corner.
But Guro Reiten restored the three-goal advantage in the 54th minute by catching Burns with a low free kick from 20 yards (meter).
An offside flag later prevented Hegerberg from scoring on her return to the tournament after a five-year self-imposed exile from playing for a country due to what she perceived as a general disregard for the women’s game. in Norway.
“I have faced pressure for so many years now,” said the Lyon striker. “That’s what keeps me going and what also makes me perform.”
After featuring in a Euro 2017 campaign that ended in the group stage, Hegerberg missed out on the 2019 World Cup as his country lost to England in the quarter-finals.
Now Norway have the early advantage of Euro 2022 Group A over England after the hosts could only open with a 1-0 win over Austria on Wednesday. England and Norway, double European champions, meet on Monday in Brighton.
“If everything was perfect today, we wouldn’t have anywhere to go for the rest of the tournament,” said Graham Hansen. “We just want to keep working and try to learn from our mistakes, and we have a good chance of doing that against England.”
Norwegian coach Martin Sjögren was hoping for more than the three goals in the first half.
“We were a bit sloppy and we can’t be like that in a big tournament because then you will be punished, which we did,” he said. “But then we bounced back quite quickly, so I’m very, very happy with our form.”
For Northern Ireland it was an improvement after being beaten 6-0 twice by Norway in qualifying.
“We limited them to few chances in the second half and built on things,” Nelson told the BBC after becoming the oldest player to score at a European Women’s Championship. “We made ourselves difficult to beat.”
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