When Ada Hegerberg announced she wouldn’t be taking to the biggest stage in women’s football this summer, Norway’s slim chances of success in France took a huge and potentially fatal hit. Winner of the first Women’s Ballon d’Or last year, the Lyon striker scored a hat-trick in the Champions League final against Barcelona, and her country was expected to really struggle without her. So far, so good, though, as they prepare for a clash with Australia in the last 16.
Both of these sides have won two of three games at the World Cup so far. Norway beat Nigeria and South Korea, but lost narrowly to France, while Australia bounced back from an opening game defeat to Italy with six points, and seven goals scored, against Brazil and Jamaica. The different styles of these sides have been evident throughout the tournament; though Norway put a rather poor Nigeria side to the sword, winning 3-0, both their other games were tight and decided by the odd goal in three.
Australia, courtesy of the second top scorer Sam Kerr, have been an entertaining watch so far. While this game isn’t exactly an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object, there definitely is a predicted pattern it could follow. Group C was the tightest in all, with only goal difference putting Italy top and Brazil third, as the trio had all won twice. Kerr’s four goals in the romp against Jamaica secured second, and she is obviously the key if her side are to progress to the quarter finals.
In Hagerberg’s absence, the entire side has had to step up for Norway rather than one player. While Kerr has fulfilled her potential so far this summer, Norway have been left wondering what might have been had their star put her understandable objections at the way women’s football is treated to one side.
But that doesn’t mean there haven’t been great individual performances either; Wolfsburg’s Caroline Hansen, already a top player in her own right, has enjoyed the limelight, as has Chelsea’s Guro Reiten. The average age of Norway’s midfield is under 23, and they are really taking their opportunity to shine, but with Isabell Herlovsen up front, a 30-year-old with 60 international goals to her name, they have experience and firepower. This will be a very tight game and one that is tough to call, but here are three factors that may help decide the outcome.
Can Norway keep Kerr quiet?
Perhaps the most obvious question when it comes to this clash, but it could also be the most important. Kerr ran riot against Jamaica, scoring her country’s first ever hat-trick at a World Cup finals before adding another late on. She is a real focal point for her team, staying in and around the box as often as she can, as the below graphic clearly shows.
Two of her strikes against Jamaica were headers, while another a close range finish from a cross. If Norway are to keep a hold on the 25-year-old, they must stop the supply from out wide; crosses into the box will be incredibly dangerous with Kerr’s leap and close control.
How effective can Hansen be for Norway?
The star turn in this Norway side in Hegerberg’s absence, and the creative hub, is Hansen. She is a very good attacking midfielder, who despite being only 24 has become part of the furniture. With Australia likely to stretch the pitch as much as possible to feed Kerr, that could free up a lot of space for Hansen to push forward and create opportunities for Norway if she tucks in from her typically wide position, most likely on the counter attack.
Will Herlovsen finally make her impact?
As an experienced member of Norway’s squad, and a prolific goalscorer, Herlovsen was expected to make more of an impact, but the fact their goals have come from midfield or the penalty spot suggests it hasn’t been the most fruitful tournament so far for her. If she can get on the score sheet and link up with Hansen and Reiten, Norway will have a great chance. But she’ll have to match Kerr at the other end.