Norway
© AFP

The past
The Norwegian national team have always been a force on the women's football scene. Winners of the UEFA Women's Championship in 1987 and 1993, they soared even higher in 1995 by taking the FIFA Women's World Cup on Swedish soil. And their performances in their two appearances at the Olympic Football Tournament have been nothing short of outstanding, taking gold at Sydney 2000 and bronze at Atlanta 1996. Hit heavily by the retirement of several key players, the Scandinavians missed out on qualifying for Athens 2004 after a below-par display at the previous year's FIFA Women's World Cup in the USA.

The present
Taking the Norway reins in December 2004, Bjarne Berntsen was charged with bringing through a new generation to gradually replace the team's ageing stars. And within a year he had taken them to the final of EURO 2005, where they lost to world champions Germany, before in 2007 guiding them safely through to that year's FIFA Women's World Cup. Though the Norwegians had to make do with fourth place in China, after defeat in the third-place play-off against the USA, Berntsen's rejuvenated side were solid, effective and bursting with creativity throughout.

The future

The retirement of key performers such as Ragnhild Gulbrandsen, Lise Klaveness, Camilla Huse and keeper Bente Nordby after China 2007 once again plunged Norway into a period of uncertainty. Astutely building his team around a solid defensive line and the genius of midfielder Solveig Gulbrandsen, Berntsen has managed to keep the Scandinavians from losing their way. And he has continued to bring on young players, several of whom picked up valuable top-level experience on Chinese soil. Their third-place finish at the recent Algarve Cup 2008 bodes well for the future, with the Norwegians beating their German rivals and finishing one place ahead of the twice world champions.

Facts and figures

Former stars
Ann Kristin Aarones (1996), Hege Riise, (1996), Anne Nymark Andersen (1996) Gro Espeseth (2000), Marianne Pettersen (2000), Bente Nordby (2008), Ragnhild Gulbrandsen (2007).

Key Players
Solveig Gulbrandsen (midfielder), Marie Knutsen (midfielder), Melissa Wiik (forward), Ane Stangeland Horpestad (defender), Ingvild Stensland (midfielder).

Qualifying statistics
Two wins and one draw from three group matches at the FIFA Women's World Cup China 2007, scoring 10 goals and conceding just four in the process, sealed Norway's place at the 2008 Olympic Games as one of the top two European sides.

The numbers game
1: Olympic Football Tournament gold medal, won after a thrilling 3-2 golden-goal victory over the USA in the Final at Sydney 2000.