Norway's Mamma Mia
© FIFA.com

It will be a sombre, tearful Norway squad that departs Hangzhou today, and though the players have made no secret that they would rather remain in this picturesque location, it is not the city they leave behind that will stir their emotions.

Nor will it be the deflating memory of allowing a guaranteed quarter-final place to slip from their grasp in the closing stages of yesterday's absorbing contest with Australia. If tears are shed, it will be because, as the players embark on the short coach journey to Shanghai, the two most popular members of their squad will be boarding a plane for the 5000-mile flight home.

They might not be the best known of the Norwegian travelling party, and it's true that they have contributed nothing on the field, but anyone who has attended any of Bjarne Berntsen's training sessions will attest to the fact that Mia and Theodor have been the undisputed star attractions.

Certainly, whenever cameras have flashed in unison or eyes were focussed in one direction, it could be safely assumed that it was not due to anything spectacular on the field, but because Solveig Gulbrandsen's toddler son and the six-year-old daughter of Camilla Huse were once again at play. Little Mia, always resplendent in her Norway kit and pink rollerblades, has been an especially dominant personality, with her mischievous grin a permanent feature of a tournament that, according to her mother, the youngster has seen as a big family holiday.

'A fantastic success'
As Huse told FIFA.com: "Mia is always as you have seen her here - happy. She is a fantastic character in that sense, but I think she has been extra happy here in China. I do know that she has loved being with the squad, it has been like a big adventure for her - with a really big family. All the players are like aunts to her if you can look at it that way.

"All day, every day she has been here, she has been smiling. I certainly know that she will be as sad to leave as I will be to see her go. But I think she will need the rest! As you can see, she never stops running or skating around on her rollerblades all day. During training, I'm sure she must do as much work as the players! I certainly haven't had any problems getting her to sleep at nights - as soon as her head has touched the pillow, it's been 'doof' (motions falling instantly asleep)."

It is tasks such as tucking Mia in at night that Huse, a teacher by profession, will miss most as Norway move on to their final Group C game against Ghana. Yet it was to the 28-year-old's credit that, while not attempting to disguise her sadness at the thought of the imminent, emotional farewells, she was able to acknowledge the debt of gratitude she owes her national association.

"I can't actually believe she is going home, I don't even want to think about it," she said, looking briefly at the ground. "But I cannot sound ungrateful because I am really thankful to the Norwegian FA for allowing her to come out here for the past few weeks. It's the first time it has been done and I think it has been a fantastic success. Before, I think a lot of women footballers really had to choose between starting a family or playing football but I do think that the culture is now changing to make it a lot easier to combine the two."

Final target
Huse also pointed out what has been clearly evident to anyone who has found themselves in the company of the Norway squad company over recent weeks.

"Mia and Theodor have been helping the atmosphere a lot," she said. "You can see for yourself how happy everyone is to have them around, and I know that Solveig and I will not be the only people very sad when they go home. We're obviously here as professionals but it's nice to be able to forget about football sometimes, and the two children give everyone that chance."

Ragnhild Gulbrandsen, a scorer in both Norway's matches thus far, was quick to vouch for her team-mate. "It's been great having them there," she said, smiling, "and we're going to miss them when they go, that's for sure. They're both so cute and, if you're ever feeling down, you just look at their little faces and you can't help but cheer up. But who knows? Maybe if we get to the final they'll come back, I think there's a chance of that."

The prospect alone leaves Huse grinning excitedly, with tantalising thoughts of a reunion giving the full-back another reason to set her sights high. "I've already told them to run and catch the first plane if we make it," she said. "I know everyone would love the children to come back for such an occasion; it will just be an added incentive for me to help get us there."