Norway didn’t need Ada Hegerberg to score to cruise to an opening victory at the Women’s European Championship on Thursday, beating tournament newcomer Northern Ireland 4-1.
Hegerberg, the all-time leading scorer in the Women’s Champions League, set up Norway’s second from Frida Maanum in the 13th minute at Southampton’s St. Mary’s Stadium.
Julie Blakstad had opened the scoring three minutes earlier by beating goalkeeper Jackie Burns at her near post with a low, left-footed drive after right-back Abbie Magee was caught well out of position.
Hegerberg, the 2018 Ballon d’Or winner, did squander two chances to extend the lead, including being denied a tap-in by Magee’s last-ditch block.
But Norway’s third goal did come in the 31st minute from the penalty spot after Nadene Caldwell handled the ball in her own box following an inswinging corner. Caroline Graham Hansen netted from the spot beyond the fingertips of the diving Burns.
There was one bright spot for Northern Ireland four minutes into the second half when Julie Nelson scored for the competition’s lowest-ranked team. The 37-year-old defender, who started playing when her country did not even have a women’s national team, headed into the net when Norway messed up clearing a corner.
But Guro Reiten restored the three-goal advantage in the 54th minute by catching out Burns from a low, 20-yard (meter) free kick.
An offside flag later denied Hegerberg from scoring on her tournament return after a self-imposed five-year exile from playing for a country because of what she perceived to be a general disregard for the women’s game in Norway.
“I’ve dealt with pressure for so many years now,” the Lyon striker said. “That’s what keeps me going and what makes me perform as well.”
After featuring in a Euro 2017 campaign that ended in the group stage, Hegerberg missed the 2019 World Cup as her country lost to England in the quarterfinals.
Now Norway has the early edge in Euro 2022 Group A over England after the host nation could only open with a 1-0 win over Austria on Wednesday. England and two-time European champion Norway meet in Brighton on Monday.
“If everything was perfect today, we would have nowhere to go for the rest of the tournament,” Graham Hansen said. “We just want to keep working and try to learn from our mistakes, and we have a good chance to do that against England.”
Norway coach Martin Sjögren was hoping for more than the three goals in the first half.
“We got a bit sloppy and we can’t be that in a big tournament because then you will get punished, which we did,” he said. “But then we bounced back quite quickly, so I’m very very happy with our form.”
For Northern Ireland it was an improvement on being routed 6-0 twice by Norway in qualifying.
“We restricted them to not many chances in the second half and built on things,” Nelson told the BBC after becoming the oldest player to score at a Women’s European Championship. “We made ourselves hard to beat.”