Norway's odd couple target Canucks
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Were it not for their identical training kit, Bente Nordby and Isabell Herlovsen would appear to have little in common. Nordby, after all, is a veteran of 165 senior caps who has won every major honour the women's game has to offer, from the FIFA Women's World Cup in 1995 to Olympic gold at Sydney 2000. Her teenage colleague, on the other hand, is appearing at her first global showpiece, and only after being given leave to miss the start of her school year.

Yet despite their dissimilarity, the pair form part of a powerful Norway team who, despite some impressive recent results in friendlies and UEFA qualifiers, have somehow managed to sneak into this tournament almost unnoticed. Coach Bjarne Berntsen is not the first to note that his team have "barely been mentioned" among the likely tournament contenders, this despite the fact the Nordic nation remains one of just three to have lifted women's football's most sought-after prize.

Wednesday will see Berntsen's side begin their 2007 campaign against a Canada team coached by Even Pellerud, the man who led his native Norway to that famous triumph in 1995. The reunion will naturally have added significance for Nordby who, by keeping a clean sheet in all but one of her six matches at those finals in Sweden, emerged as the Norwegian hero. Then just 21, Nordby shut out the likes of Germany, USA and Canada en route to the title, and yet while it is generally accepted that she is an even more accomplished goalkeeper 12 years on, the 33-year-old insists that her fifth FIFA Women's World Cup will also be her last.

"This will definitely be my final World Cup," said the Norway No1. "No doubts about that. So I want to make sure I enjoy it. Women's football is very tight now, there's not much between the top teams. I look around at the other teams and I think that Germany, the US, China, Brazil, North Korea and Sweden all have a chance of winning. Hopefully we can be in there challenging too, I think we have a chance. It's great to be here but nothing can compare to your first World Cup, I think. Then, everything was so new and exciting. Don't get me wrong, it's still great to be involved in such a fantastic competition, but nothing is new to me in football any more. I look at the young ones and it brings it all back to me what it's like for the first time, it's nice to see them so excited."

Class issues
Herlovsen, having just turned 19 during the summer, is the youngest of a clutch of U-20 players within a generally experienced Norway squad, and still has another year of school to face when she returns from China. In explaining the difficulties her friends will face in watching her in action, the contrast with Nordby becomes especially stark. "My friends are very happy and excited for me that I'm here with the squad but they have classes at the moment so I don't know if they will be able to watch our matches. Hopefully they will get some time off, I know they will be hoping for that."

There will also be a few fingers crossed that Herlovsen is handed a starting role by Berntsen, although a more likely outcome is that the teenager will start the match against Canada on the bench. Nevertheless, having twice made a scoring impact during Norway's route to the final of UEFA EURO 2005, the youngster believes she can once again prove her credentials on the big stage.

"I hope I can play but I know that to do that I must be very good in training," she told FIFA.com. "The good thing is that I can play in midfield or up front, so hopefully that gives me more of a chance. I would like to play in midfield but I know that this is an area where we are very strong. I am still learning in the game, and someone like Solveig Gulbrandsen is a great example for me, I like her style of play very much." Herlovsen may have a long way to go before she can aspire to the kind of status currently enjoyed by Gulbrandsen or Nordby, but her veteran colleague certainly believes that the ever-improving teenager has all the makings of an international stalwart.

"Maybe Isabell is not a star of this team yet," explained Nordby, "but she is getting better and better every day and is a good player to come on and make an impact in matches for us. Although she is young, she has experience of playing - and playing well - in the European Championship. Obviously the World Cup is another step up but I'm sure she will cope very well."