Gulbrandsen savours milestones
© Foto-net

We've all had days when absolutely nothing seems to go right. If we're lucky, we might also have enjoyed the odd day like the one Ragnhild Gulbrandsen has just experienced in Hangzhou.

This, after all, was a day on which everything the Norway striker touched turned to gold, and afterwards she was left to reflect on not only having scored the 500th FIFA Women's World Cup goal, but also on becoming tournament top scorer following her first-ever international hat-trick.

Unsurprisingly, therefore, it was a grinning Gulbrandsen who, still in her sweat-soaked kit, told FIFA.com of her shock at hearing the competition's 500th goal had fallen to her. "It's fantastic, I certainly don't mean to play it down," she said, referring to her initial description of the milestone as 'just a number' in the post-match press conference. "I certainly wasn't aware of it going into the match and I had no idea at the time I scored, but I feel lucky and honoured that it was me. It's funny, I'm sure it's something I'll appreciate even more when I'm old, looking back on my career."

The goal may already be bringing her considerable personal satisfaction, but there is little doubt that it would pale into insignificance compared with the worldwide recognition she would earn were she to claim the adidas Golden Shoe. At the moment, she is the unlikely leader of that particular race, her hat-trick in the 7-2 win over Ghana lifting her above two of the women's game's most iconic figures, Marta and Birgit Prinz. For a woman who as recently as 2005 thought her football career was over, the fact she is even in the running represents a fairy tale in itself.

"It's unbelievable," said the 30-year-old. "If you had said to me not so long ago that I would be ahead of Marta and Prinz as top scorer of a World Cup, I couldn't have believed you. Especially as this team isn't known for scoring a lot of goals. But I seem to be on quite a good run now, I've scored in all the games so far, so hopefully I'm still up with them at the end."

'Up there with the best'
One man who believes Gulbrandsen will last the distance is coach Bjarne Berntsen. It was he who brought the Asker striker back into the international fold after she came out of retirement, and he admits to having tailored his team and tactics to fit a player in whom his faith has never wavered.

Asked if his free-scoring striker could rival Prinz, Marta and Co over the course of the tournament, he replied: "I believe so, yes. She has the qualities to stay with those players but she needs the right service. She is a key player for us. We have worked a lot on our system to make sure that we play to her strengths and get the most out of her, and I think you see the results out on the field. Today, she showed that she is up there with the best if she gets the right service.

"It's been hugely important to have her back and I must pay her a lot of credit for how hard she worked on her physical condition while she was out injured. She has come back much stronger and lighter because of that hard work, and now you are really seeing Ragnhild at her best."

Gulbrandsen is certainly the first to acknowledge the debt she owes not only to Berntsen, but also to the wingers and set-piece specialists who provided her with plenty of ammunition to shoot down the Ghanaians. She did, however, quite rightly reserve the right to savour a hat-trick that, as she explained, had been a long time coming. "That's my first-ever hat-trick for the national team, or at least I think it is!" she said, laughing.

"I certainly can't ever remember scoring one before at international level, certainly not in a World Cup, so it's very, very special for me to do it today. I must say, though, that the system and the players we have now make it very easy for me. That's probably why I score more goals for the national team now than I used to. In the old days, they used to just knock long balls forward to me and it was my job to knock them down for the wingers to score. Now it's the other way about... and I must say that I like it this way!"