Northern Ireland’s senior women’s team were heavily defeated by Norway in their opening UEFA Women’s Euro 2021 qualifier.
Norway, the top seeds in Group C, showed a ruthless streak as they ran out 6-0 winners against Kenny Shiels’ team in front of 1064 spectators at Seaview tonight.
The Norwegians produced some mesmerising football at times, however Northern Ireland did not help their cause with costly errors.
It was always going to be tough for Shiels’ side, who were up against a squad featuring players who ply their trade with the likes of Barcelona, PSG, Chelsea and Wolfsburg.
However, they gave a good account of themselves despite the scoreline. The new manager has introduced a more expansive style of play and at times the girls in green and white executed it well.
Barcelona Femini player Caroline Graham Hansen, who grabbed a hat-trick,produced an excellent individual performance on the Shore Road.
The bulk of Martin Sjögren’s squad were at the Women’s World Cup in France earlier this summer where they reached the quarter-finals – and their class was evident for much of the game.
Norway took the lead with just five minutes on the clock. Guro Reiten chased down a Sarah McFadden passback to Northern Ireland keeper Jacqueline Burns and as Burns hesitated Reiten slid in to bundle the ball into the net from close range.
Northern Ireland’s Simone Magill and Demi Vance linked up well during a counter-attack on 14 minutes, however Vance’s cross was coolly collected by the Norwegian keeper.
Northern Ireland shot themselves in the foot again moments later when a back pass from Ashley Hutton put Burns under pressure and Hansen nipped in to steal the ball and smash it home.
Attacking midfielder Rachel Furness drilled a free-kick into the area which evaded everyone and just fell wide of the post before Lisa-Marie Utland missed a gilt-edged opportunity for the Norwegians whose pace-packed attacks constantly had the home defence on the back foot.
On 42 minutes Magill produced some neat trickery down the right. The ball eventually broke to Furness who tried a curler from 25 yards which drifted wide of the upright. Minutes later she had another effort which fizzed past the post.
As half-time approached Burns produced an excellent stop at the feet of Hansen and then a Norwegian cross came back off the upright.
Northern Ireland came out after the break with a spring in their step. They pressed the Norwegians and on 56 minutes McFadden headed over the top from close range when she got on the end of a Vance delivery.
In the 63rd minute Hansen, against the run of play, drifted past a couple of defenders and smashed the ball past Burns from an angle to make it 3-0.
Hansen completed her hat-trick on 72 minutes when she picked up the ball outside the area, closed in on goal and stroked the ball into the bottom corner.
Norway’s fifth came from an unfortunate ricochet. An attempted clearance inside the box by Julie Nelson hit Norwegian substitute Amalie Eikeland and the ball spun into the net.
Hansen was involved again in the sixth Norwegian goal, stroking the ball to Guro Reiten who slipped it past Burns from six yards.
Right at the death Hansen almost got her fourth of the night. Her whipped delivery from a corner went inches past the post.
Northern Ireland Senior Women: Jacqueline Burns, Rachel Newborough, Demi Vance (Marissa Callaghan 68 ), Sarah McFadden (captain) (Kerry Montgomery 68’), Julie Nelson, Ashley Hutton, Chloe McCarron, Simone Magill, Rachel Furness, Freya Holdaway, Rebecca McKenna (Lauren Wade 68’) . Substitutes: Emma Higgins, Becky Flaherty, Marissa Callaghan, Lauren Wade, Natalie Johnson, Kerry Montgomery, Rebecca Holloway, Megan Bell, Yasmin White.