On paper, at least, an exciting and high-quality encounter is on
the cards when Norway and Canada cross swords at the FIFA
Women's World Cup China 2007. The Scandinavians and the North
Americans must be rated favourites to progress from Group C with
both teams brimming with physical strength and attacking intent.
Wednesday's fixture in Hangzhou represents a clash between
nations whose ability to play a decisive role in the Far East
should not be underestimated - and is lent further spice by the
presence of Even Pellerud, coach of Norway's 1995 world
champions but now in charge of Canada.
Norway-Canada, Hangzhou, Wednesday 12 September, 20:00 (local time)
Following the disappointment of elimination at the quarter-final stage of the FIFA Women's World Cup USA 2003, Norway have come to China determined to reclaim their former place among the world's elite. The 1995 champions were a decent outside bet for this year's crown even before a 2-2 away draw with reigning champions Germany in late August, a match the Scandinavians dominated for long spells. Norway are understandably keen to claim three points in their opening fixture for a confidence-boosting start to the tournament.
For their part, the North Americans are equally determined to bolster their reputation as an emerging force in women's football and can only benefit from the experience of coach Pellerud. At the CONCACAF Women's Gold Cup in 2006, Canada's commendable second place indicated that the gap between themselves and USA continues to narrow and an opening-day success against the highly rated Norwegians would confirm that progress and send out a bold message.
Norway coach Bjarne Berntsen could be without No7 Trine Ronning, who has undergone a dental operation in China and is considered doubtful for the Group C clash. Pellerud also has "two or three" injury worries, but declined to name the players in danger of missing the match against his former team.
The Norwegians are unbeaten in eight previous meetings between the nations, having won seven of those matches with one draw. The teams have twice met at the FIFA Women's World Cup, Norway cruising to victory on both occasions (7-0 in 1995 and 7-1 in 1999).
Canada midfielder Amy Walsh turns 30 on the day after the meeting with Norway, whose own midfielder Madeleine Giske will celebrate her 20th birthday another 24 hours later.
I expect a very tactical game from both teams. We know them very well, I don't think they know as much about us as we know about them - for good reasons. I hope we can surprise them a little bit with some of our players and some of our tactics. Norway has played the same way for the last couple of years, I don't think they can surprise us a whole lot - Even Pellerud, Canada coach
I have been reading what experts write on international websites for women's football. Most pundits rate the United States, Germany, Korea DPR and Brazil as the likely teams to take gold, with Sweden and China as outsiders. We are barely mentioned. I hope we can spring a surprise like when we reached the final of EURO 2005. The team is close-knit, the players work hard and we are solid defensively. We need to work more on the attacking side of our game - Bjarne Berntsen, Norway coach