2022 Euros team preview: Norway- Sjögren's shortcomings might hurt Norway's chances at the Euros


Since its inception in 1984, the UEFA Women’s Euro has been a happy hunting ground for the Norwegian national team. In the early days of the competition, Norway were crowned champions in 1987, and then went on to finish as runners-up in the following two editions. In 1993, they were back in the winner’s circle, securing a second European Championship trophy by beating Germany in the final. This was followed up with a bronze medal the following tournament, before a massive disappointment saw them crash out in the group stages in the 1997 edition as one of the host countries. At that time, they were also the reigning World Champions having won the 1995 World Cup.


In the 2000’s, Norway’s record in the Euros remained rather decent. They won bronze medals in both 2001 and 2009, with a runners-up spot in the tournament in 2005. Norway's most recent success in the Euros came in 2013, finishing runners-up to Germany. Although the 0-1 scoreline may not show it, the final was a tough battle between a young and spirited Norway team and a German side who’s core had won two Women’s World Cups in 2003 and 2007. The inexperience of Norway’s front 3 of Ada Hegerberg, Caroline Graham Hansen and Kristine Minde was no match for Nadine Angerer, who saved two penalties and secured an eighth title for the Germans.


Despite finishing runners-up in 2013, they had a historically bad tournament in 2017. They were drawn in a group alongside Belgium, eventual runners-up Denmark and eventual champions Netherlands, a group in which they were the highest ranked team and possibly favourites to win. However, they had a disgraceful time in the Netherlands, crashing out in the group stages having lost all three games and without scoring a single goal. They ended up being the big disappointment of that tournament, so much so that the national team environment pushed Ada Hegerberg to retire early from international football shortly after it concluded. The Ballon d’Or winner returned only a few months ago in 2022, so all things considered, Norway will be looking to significantly improve on that 2017 result in the upcoming Euros in England.


Head coach


Martin Sjögren has failed to take Norway to the next step after a promising start to his reign. Photo: Alexander Larsen

Norway’s coach is 45 year-old Swede Martin Sjögren. Having won the 2016 Damallsvenskan title with Linköping, Sjögren agreed to take over the Norwegian national team to succeed caretaker manager Leif Gunnar Smerud. Sjögren went unbeaten in qualifying for the 2017 Euros, but those same Euros ended in complete disaster.


Following their historically bad Euro exit, Sjögren’s results somewhat improved. On September 4th 2018, he coached Norway to a 2-1 win against the Netherlands in their final group stage game of their World Cup qualifying group. Norway topped the group and secured an automatic berth into the 2019 World Cup, whilst reigning European Champions Netherlands were forced to qualify through play-offs.


In the lead up to the World Cup, Norway won the 2019 edition of the Algarve Cup by beating Poland 3-0 in the final for their fifth title. During the World Cup, Norway won their opening game against Nigeria 3-0, before losing 2-1 to France. A 2-1 win against South Korea, secured them a spot in the round of 16 where they faced Australia. Sjögren’s Norway progressed to the quarterfinal after beating the Aussies on penalties, but fell way short in their quarterfinal against England, ultimately going out of the tournament with a 0-3 defeat.


Despite getting eliminated in the quarterfinal and not being particularly close to challenge England in that game, there was a positive vibe around the Norwegian national team with Sjögren as the coach, and a genuine feeling that there was more to come from the team. However, since then, Sjögren hasn’t been able to progress with the team and develop it further. The players haven't taken the next step under his management, resulting in the team stagnating overall and falling behind top European teams. Norway has no problem beating teams inferior to them, but against bigger teams, Norway’s performances have for the most part been mediocre at best. Additionally, much of Norway’s success in attack relies heavily on individual brilliance from their talisman Caroline Graham Hansen.


The Barcelona star has carried the national team on her back for the majority of the games under Sjögren since the World Cup, due to the coach being unable to implement a functioning system and identity that suits the squad. Sjögren’s tactics and set-ups have been hugely underwhelming, and considering the amount of talent he has on hand, it is a massive disappointment that he hasn’t been able to get more out of his team.


One the problems that has become clear under Sjögren’s management is his tendency to underutilise players by playing them out of position, often to the detriment of the team’s structure and cohesiveness. Another problem is his refusal to pick in-form players, and instead including the same players over and over again despite them underperforming at a club level. Combine that with his tactical frailties, predictable set-up and subpar in-game management, and you get the recipe for Norway’s downhill trajectory since the World Cup.


Squad


Goalkeepers: Guro Pettersen, Aurora Mikalsen and Sunniva Skoglund


Defenders: Maren Mjelde, Maria Thorisdottir, Tuva Hansen, Guro Bergsvand, Anja Sønstevold, Anna Jøsendal, Synne Skinnes Hansen and Julie Blakstad.


Midfielders: Ingrid Syrstad Engen, Frida Maanum, Vilde Bøe Risa, Thea Bjelde, Amalie Eikeland, Elisabeth Terland, Karina Sævik and Guro Reiten.


Forwards: Ada Hegerberg, Caroline Graham Hansen, Celin Bizet Ildhusøy and Sophie Román Haug.


There are a few talking points when it comes to Norway’s squad for the upcoming Euros. By far the most important one is the return of Lyon striker and former Ballon d’Or winner Ada Hegerberg. This will be her first tournament with the Norwegian national team since the failure in the 2017 Euros, as Hegerberg quit the national team in the aftermath of the tournament.


With one of the best strikers in the world returning to the squad before a major tournament, the expectations upon Norway are automatically heightened. The striker position has been a huge problem after record goalscorer Isabell Herlovsen retired, but that issue is seemingly now solved. With Hegerberg as the main striker, Norway can now field a frightening front three with Hegerberg, Caroline Graham Hansen and Guro Reiten, which is an attacking trio not many teams can match. This is also why many have tipped Norway as one of the dark horses this summer.


Ada Hegerberg is back for Norway after retiring in the aftermath of the 2017 Euros. This will be her first tournament since returning and all eyes will be on her and Caroline Graham Hansen. Photo: Alexander Larsen

Another thing that has to be mentioned after looking at Norway’s squad is the absence of first choice goalkeeper, Cecilie Fiskerstrand. The LSK goalkeeper was the undoubtable first choice before tearing her ACL during a training session with her club, meaning she will miss out on the Euros. Fiskerstrand missing the Euros means that the number one goalkeeper spot in Norway’s starting XI is wide open. None of Guro Pettersen, Aurora Mikalsen or Sunniva Skoglund can show much national team football on their CV, with Mikalsen only starting one game and Pettersen being subbed on in one. Skoglund has no experience, and the lack of experience in the goalkeeper position could be an issue for Norway.


As things stands, it looks like Vålerenga's Guro Pettersen has gotten the nod from Sjögren to be Norway’s goalkeeper in England, as she did start in both the preparation games against New Zealand and Denmark. Pettersen has had a good season with Vålerenga so far, only conceding 8 goals in 14 games- the best defensive record in Toppserien. Brann midfielder Lisa Naalsund will also miss the Euros for Norway, as an injury against New Zealand means that she will be replaced by Vålerenga midfielder Thea Bjelde.


A final note on Norway’s squad is the inclusions of Roma striker Sophie Román Haug and Rosenborg winger Anna Jøsendal. Most people probably didn’t expect either of them to be included, but Jøsendal has had an impressive season for Rosenborg and could be used as an option at both the left wing and at left back. She’s a really tricky player with good pace and could possibly be a wild card during the Euros. As for Román Haug, she brings a physical presence up front and her strength in the air could be a useful weapon.


Best XI/formation


During his period as Norway head coach, Martin Sjögren has mostly gone for a very standard 4-4-2 formation with Graham Hansen set up as one of the strikers instead of her usual right-wing position. Hansen is however given the freedom to roam around the pitch, often picking up the ball and creating chances and attacking situations.


Sjögren has also tried experimenting with a back three, setting up in a 3-4-2-1 formation in some games such as this year’s Algarve Cup. However, that was without Maren Mjelde in the squad, who hasn’t played for a lengthy period due to a long-term injury sustained with Chelsea. The Norway captain is back for the Euros, and if the staff can get her match fit for the tournament, she will start at centre-back like she did against New Zealand. In that game, Norway did play a 4-4-2, so and that looks to be the formation they will play during the Euros.


One thing that could favour a back three for Norway at the Euros is the amount of centre-backs in the squad and the lack of outright full-backs. Sjögren has been known for playing players out of position, and nothing is more evident than that in the full-back position where he has played wingers instead of full-backs. However, it does look like Julie Blakstad will play at left-back with Rosenborg winger Synne Skinnes Hansen at right-back in a back four.


Best XI:

4-3-3: Guro Pettersen, Synne Skinnes Hansen, Maren Mjelde, Maria Thorisdottir, Julie Blakstad, Ingrid Syrstad Engen, Frida Maanum, Vilde Bøe Risa, Caroline Graham Hansen, Ada Hegerberg, Guro Reiten.


Predicted XI:

4-4-2: Guro Pettersen, Synne Skinnes Hansen, Maren Mjelde, Maria Thorisdottir, Julie Blakstad, Amalie Eikeland, Ingrid Syrstad Engen, Frida Maanum, Guro Reiten, Caroline Graham Hansen, Ada Hegerberg.



Star player

Unsurprisingly, Norway’s star player(s) are Ada Hegerberg and Caroline Graham Hansen, and they will heavily rely on both of them delivering to their usual standards if the team can stand any chance of making it far. Hansen must be at her magical best with her dazzling dribbling, creativity and general quality, whilst Hegerberg has to be the goal scorer Norway needs her to be. Hegerberg’s presence on the pitch and in the box, strikes fear into any opposition’s defence. Both of them will therefore be key for Norway at the Euros.


Player to watch


Norway has a lot of players one can pick as their player to watch. The natural thing would be to pick one of their superstars. Everyone will be keeping an eye on Graham Hansen because of her role as Barcelona’s best forward, and everyone will be looking out for Hegerberg, as this will be her first major tournament with Norway since returning to the national team.


Going against the grain by not picking either Hegerberg or Graham Hansen, the player to watch for Norway this Euros is Manchester City player Julie Blakstad. She will start at left-back for Norway which isn’t her favoured position, but her attacking qualities make her one to keep a keen eye on. She thrives in one vs one situations with her pace and dribbling skills, and always bombs forward from her full-back position. Blakstad also possesses great end product with her precise left-foot, meaning that she can cause a lot of problems for opposition full-backs during the tournament.


Manchester City player Julie Blakstad will be one to watch for Norway at the Euros. Photo: Alexander Larsen

Unexpected player


As for the unexpected player/surprise player, the pick is Anna Jøsendal. She was a surprise inclusion in the squad, but certainly has some very good qualities that can be useful and could be on show. The combination of her pace, dribbling and close control is a huge threat and has been on display in Toppserien this season resulting in 4 goals and 4 assists in 13 league games. Jøsendal could prove to be another wild card for Norway if she gets any game time.


Prediction

Norway has been drawn into group A alongside host nation England, Austria and Northern Ireland. On paper, this is a group they should be able to progress from, but that was also the case in 2017. England will be the big favourites to win the group, so Norway has to fight it out with Austria for the second quarterfinal spot. The Austrians can’t be taken lightly or underestimated as their squad is full of players playing for top European teams. Amongst those are Sarah Zadrazil, Manuela Zinsberger, Nicole Billa, Katharina Naschenweng, Laura Wienroither and Barbara Dunst.


The battle for the second spot in the group will be tough, but Norway should make it to the knockout stage alongside England. Martin Sjögren has set the standards by publicly stating that reaching the semifinals is an optimistic, but achievable goal for Norway at the Euros. However, they would have to be at their very best and more to do so as their quarterfinal opponent, should they make it, is likely to be either Germany or Spain.


Despite having superstars like Hegerberg and Graham Hansen, Norway’s run at the Euros will end at the quarterfinal stage. The fact that many women’s football fans have named them dark horses to win the title, seems a bit farfetched given how far behind Norway has been the Europe’s elite for a long period. It was only last year they lost 0-7 to the Netherlands which only emphasized the gap between Norway and the top teams, and the Norwegians have shown no signs of having closed that gap, even with Hegerberg back.


Caroline Graham Hansen will have to bring her magic should Norway make it far in England. Photo: Alexander Larsen

Sjögren’s many weaknesses as a coach is the main reason why this gap hasn’t been closed due to his aforementioned struggles to develop the team after the 2019 World Cup. His system is flawed in too many areas, there isn’t a recognisable attacking plan or pattern and the defence looks very vulnerable, even against teams that are considered weaker than Norway, like New Zealand. Norway has the squad to challenge for semifinal and maybe even a final spot, but Sjögren’s dysfunctional tactics means they’re still far away from the best national teams. They are expected to progress from the group, but barring any unexpected turn of events, they will likely go out in the quarterfinal.