Northern Ireland Women will face another massive challenge when they come up against Norway Women in Portadown on Tuesday (10 April).
Alfie Wylie’s team can expect to be under the cosh when the Norwegians visit Shamrock Park (7.30 kick-off, free admission) for a FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019 Qualifying Group 3 clash.
In the reverse fixture Norway, the number one seeds in the group, succeeded by four goals to one in Fredrikstad back in September.
Netherlands and Republic of Ireland currently lead the group on 10 points apiece, with three wins and a draw each, but Martin Sjögren’s side are still very much in the hunt.
While the Dutch boast players who ply their trade with the likes of Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Arsenal in their ranks, Norway have a squad of players who largely play their football in Scandinavia, although some of their key players operate in Germany and England.
And they should not be underestimated. They have only played three games in the group so far and have six points in the bag. After beating Northern Ireland 4-1 and Slovakia 6-1, they suffered their only defeat to date away to Netherlands (1-0) after conceding a last minute goal.
“This is another extremely difficult game for us coming just four days after we played the European champions,” admitted Northern Ireland National Women’s Manager Alfie Wylie.
Chelsea Ladies defender Maren Mjelde, with more than 120 caps, is not only a defensive stalwart for Norway but she also weighs in with goals (19).
Midfielder Caroline Graham Hansen (Wolfsburg) also gets her fair share of goals, with 19 in 58 appearances, and she scored in the reverse fixture, while fellow engine room operator Kristine Minde (Linkoping) has nine in 87 appearances.
The Northern Ireland defence, however, will really need to be on their toes when they face striker Isabell Herlovsen. The Valerenga forward has scored 52 times for her country (115 caps). And her strike partner Elise Thorsnes (Utah Royals) is no slouch either, with 19 in 111 games.
The girls in green will have to be at the top of their game to have any realistic chance of success.
The likes of striker Rachel Furness, who showed some neat touches against the Dutch, veteran defenders Ashley Hutton and Julie Nelson and experienced midfielders Sarah McFadden and Marissa Callaghan, the team captain, will have to lead by example if Alfie Wylie’s side are to prevail.