Berntsen: No tougher start
© AFP

Norway women's coach Bjarne Berntsen insists that by playing the USA in their opening match in Qinhuangdao, his team has been handed the toughest possible start.

The 51-year-old from Figgjo, who has been in charge of the Scandinavians for four years has ran in to the USA on many occasions, but believes that their current team under Pia Sundhage will pose even more of a threat than they have in the past.

FIFA.com: Bjarne, almost a year has gone by since the semi-final defeat against Germany at the FIFA Women's World Cup. Are you still disappointed about your results at that tournament?
No, not really. At the end, it was a great success to be in the world's best four teams. But when you have the chance to win it all, you are always disappointed to lose when it counts. Of course, we definitely want to do better this time in China. That's our aim.

Are you optimistic?
I really hope that the team is stronger than last year. I believe that my overall team has made progress as a unit, not just in terms of individuals. We want to win a medal. But we should also keep in mind that we lost some experienced players after the World Cup due to the retirements.

Do you think that your young starlet Isabell Herlovsen will finally break through at the world stage and can lead Norway to success?
For Isabell, it is definitely too early. She is still too young. Actually, she even has to fight for a place in the team.

You have a difficult group. What do you think of the USA. How strong are they?
We start against the tournament's big favourites. It is the toughest start that we could imagine. But it is also good because afterwards we know where we stand. They had some really good results under their new coach, and we played them twice lately and lost both matches 4-0 each. This tells you something about their quality.

The second match will be against New Zealand. Do you think this will be an easy one?
New Zealand is the team that I know least about. I only saw them in China. They have gone through an easy qualification. I regard them to be the underdogs of our group.

And then, it will be Japan are your third opponent.
Japan has improved a lot lately and they are still improving. Furthermore, they have a very experienced side. We will play them in our last group match and this one will be a tough decider.

Besides all your ambitions, will you be able to enjoy the Olympic Games experience?
The Olympic Football Tournament is definitely something very special. It cannot be compared with anything else. In my eyes, it is the most prestigious tournament in women's football. And it is also great to be around all those great and tough athletes. We are very proud to go to Beijing, thats for sure.

Is there a team or an athlete that you are really looking forward to meet? Who will you cheer for besides your own team?
Well, we have done some pre-tournament training together with the Norway women's handball national team who are big favourites in their discipline for the Olympics. It was a great experience and a lot of fun, too. We all keep our fingers crossed for them, and hopefully they will do so for us as well.