The hosts are gearing up for the toughest game of their Euro 2022 group encounters tonight at the Brighton & Hove Community Stadium, kick-off 8pm. If recent form is anything to go by, it looks set to be a close affair, but the Lionesses can edge it by keeping Norway’s stars quiet and exploiting their vulnerable defence, writes Rachel Roberts.
England made a winning start to their Euros campaign with a 1-0 victory against Austria last Wednesday. The record crowd of over 68,000 witnessed a solid rather than flashy display from the Lionesses after Beth Mead’s 16th-minute strike set them on course for the three points. Tonight, they will need to have built on their opening fixture and be more clinical against an impressive Norway team, who kicked off their tournament with a 4-1 win against Northern Ireland last Thursday.
Norway are in strong from, unbeaten in their last six games and having put in a dominating display against their most recent opposition. But while they were perhaps expected to breeze past Northern Ireland, the lack of a clean sheet speaks to the moments of sloppiness that appeared in the second half, something manager Martin Sjogren addressed in his assessment of the game.
He said: “We dominated with our attacking play and we could have scored a couple more, to be fair, in the first half. So I’m very pleased with the first 45 minutes; but then Northern Ireland came back, we got a bit sloppy, and we can’t be that in a big tournament because then you will get punished, which we did.”
For England, this shaky defence is what they should be looking to target. Manager Sarina Wiegman’s assessment of her side contrasted with that of her Norwegian counterpart. She said: “We were a little rushed in the final third. We did create lots of chances but the final touch or choice, we can do that better.” They recorded 16 shots against Austria, but with only the one goal, the Lionesses will need to be more ruthless if they are to overcome Norway.
With both sides currently on winning runs, something will have to give tonight. Similarly, the two teams are both used to dominating possession in fixtures, with England and Norway having 59 per cent and 61 per cent possession in their opening games respectively. Being clinical in possession will be key to this match.
Most recently, these sides met twice in 2019 – at the quarter-final stage of the World Cup and for a friendly. In France, England won 3-0 to book a place in the semi-finals, while Norway edged out the friendly 2-1. Both ties were evenly-matched contests regarding shots and possession, so if these are any indicators, we should look forward to an equally competitive game tonight.
Key battle: England defence v Hegerberg and Graham HansenEmbed from Getty Images
England have kept 12 clean sheets in their last 15 internationals, but their defence will be tested by two of the best attackers in the game: Ada Hegerberg and Caroline Graham Hansen.
Lyon striker Hegerberg netted 16 times in 26 appearances across all competitions last season, as her club won the French league and the Champions League. She is the all-time highest goal scorer in the latter competition (59), as well as holding the record for the greatest number of goals in a single campaign, in the 2017/18 season (15) – figures which resulted in her being crowned the inaugural winner of the Ballon d’Or Feminin.
Her strike partner, Graham Hansen, is one of the best forwards in the world. She scored 11 goals this season for a Barcelona side that won a domestic treble, and kicked off her haul for this summer’s Euros with a penalty against Northern Ireland. Her new Barca team-mate Lucy Bronze and the Lionesses’ other defenders will need to keep this pair quiet if England are to come out on top.
Wiegman is missing only one player for selection, after defender Lotte Wubben-Moy tested positive for Covid-19 and has temporarily returned home from the camp.
Fully-fit Norway have no concerns, from injury or otherwise, to hinder Sjogren’s selection. “As a coach you want everyone available, and we have. It’s really a great experience playing the hosts with all the people in the stands, the atmosphere will be magical. We’re really looking forward to tomorrow,” he said.
Last five results (all competitions)
England: WWWWW Norway: WWWWW
England wins: 2 Norway wins: 7 Draws: 1
3/09/2019: Norway 2-1 England (friendly)
27/06/2019: Norway 0-3 England (World Cup quarter-final)
Game changer: Beth Mead
Full of confidence after scoring the winning goal against Austria, Mead can put any pre-tournament nerves about getting off the mark to rest and freely play her game. Her seven goals in eight appearances for England so far in 2022 puts her in fine form and provides proof she can consistently do the business for her country. Up against a Norway side who have shown potential weaknesses in their defence, the Arsenal forward is liable to make an impact.Embed from Getty Images
Score prediction: England 2 Norway 1
This is each team’s biggest test in the group. Both sides come into this fixture on winning streaks: form which suggests the game is sure to be tight. Norway are highly ranked, with strong attacking players high on confidence, but it is their backline that is the cause for slight doubt. Against Northern Ireland, their sloppiness paid little consequence, but if these concerns remain against England then they should be punished. The Lionesses have made a dream start to their home tournament and have the quality to take the three points, but they need to be more clinical in front of goal to make sure of this.
After the atmosphere at the Austria opener, Georgia Stanway called on the home crowd to “bring the noise. It can rattle the opposition!” With 30,000 expected to be in Brighton tonight, we predict that this 12th man can help give England the edge over their Norwegian opponents to send them to the top of Group A.
You can follow Rachel on Twitter @rachellrobertts