Norway hero turns villain

His 18 FIFA Women's World Cup matches make him the tournament's most experienced coach and, in 1995, he made history by guiding his native Norway to a first-ever world title. But as Even Pellerud prepares for a fifth crack at the women's game's greatest prize, he will do so against the team he led to the final of the inaugural FIFA Women's World Cup and on to glory at the 1993 UEFA Women's Championship and Sweden 1995.

It is with Canada, Norway's opening opponents, that Pellerud's professional allegiance now lies, and having coached the North American nation for the past eight years, it was always fanciful to suspect that he might suffer from divided loyalties in Hangzhou. It was, however, surprising to hear the 52-year-old describe Norway as "just another opponent", dismissing any notion of taking pleasure - or pain - from the reunion with former players such as Bente Nordby and the two Gulbrandsens, Ragnhild and Solveig.

"No, I can't say I will really feel any emotion because it has been eight years now since I worked with these players," he told FIFA.com. "That's a long time in football. I still keep an eye on their development of course but strictly in a professional way, assessing their strength as opposition. I honestly haven't been thinking about this game too much from the perspective of being a Norwegian or my history with the Norway women's team. I was happy enough with the draw actually, it's no problem for me at all to be facing my own country.

"That's not to say I don't have very special memories of my time with Norway, or of that team in '95. That was a great side, very strong and physical but also with some very smart football players. Their current team is very different; smaller but more skilful." Norway have certainly undergone a significant transformation since turning their back on the direct, combative and physical style of play that Pellerud has championed on both sides of the Atlantic. Those who remember the big, brawny Norwegian champions of 1995 will certainly find nothing they recognise in the neat, expansive brand of football that even their former coach was quick to praise.

"They are a very strong passing team," acknowledged Pellerud, who will watch the match from the stand after picking up a suspension. "They work the ball well through midfield, keep the ball on the ground and know how to play to each other's strengths. We will need to be on the top of game defensively to cope with them. You will see two different styles and it will be interesting to see how the game goes."

'A shockingly long time'
Canada will certainly hope to fare better than in their previous two FIFA Women's World Cup meetings with the Norwegians, with Pellerud sure to consider it a personal affront were there to be a repeat of the scorelines of 7-0 and 7-1 in 1995 and '99 - despite the fact he was the victorious coach on both occasions. The former international has never exited this tournament before the semi-final stage, and while in no doubt that the overall standard has risen sharply since Norway took gold in '95, he believes that Canada can emerge from the shadows to challenge for the title.

"The main difference now is the higher number of good teams," he said. "Back in '95, you had a very good idea who was capable of winning it. Now I think there are five, six, maybe more teams who could win here in China and, yes, I hope we are among that group. Perhaps we are not ranked among the top three or four but there is always one big favourite at any tournament who disappoints, and also an outsider who causes a surprise. Hopefully we can be that outsider."

As for Pellerud himself, he admits that an end is now in sight to his lengthy Canadian adventure, although don't bet against this fiery 52-year-old appearing at the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup under a different banner. "This is my eighth year in the job and next year will be my ninth," he said, shaking his head. "It's a shockingly long time. As for the future, let's see. To have the chance to come to just one World Cup is a great privilege, so for this to be my fifth makes me very lucky indeed.

"I'm not a man who looks back much though, or too far in the future for that matter. In this business, you never know what will happen next year. You can plan all you want but I've found that things inevitably go very different to how you'd hoped or expected. I certainly never expected to be coaching Canada at my fourth World Cup, that's for sure."