Norway plot future as star quits
© Foto-net

Norway's slick, eye-catching style of play might have won them plenty of new friends in China, but a gang of fresh admirers and the FIFA Fair Play award fell some way short of what Bjarne Berntsen and his players had hoped to take from this tournament.

Topping their group and eliminating the hosts in the last eight had, after all, left the Norwegians dreaming of reclaiming the prize they previously seized in 1995, only for emphatic defeats by Germany and the US to bring them tumbling back down to earth. Now, with his side's China 2007 efforts having secured a place at next years Women's Olympic Football Tournament, Berntsen is already beginning the process of building towards Beijing - and is in no doubt the area in need of most urgent attention.

"I think this has been a very good tournament in general and one in which the best teams have reached a very high level," he said. "But it has also become clear that that it's impossible to be among the top teams if not your players are not among the top athletes. We must certainly be a lot stronger physically. We can play some great football if we're not tired, but you have seen the problems we've had in competing with other sides at the very top.

"It was certainly obvious against USA that they were physically a lot stronger than us. We have a lot of work to do to make sure we're still competing at the end of tournaments. And improving physically will be all the more important for the Olympics because at that competition, we will have just two rest days in between our matches."

Ragnhild returns to the wilderness
Berntsen might have believed that he had served up both a diagnosis and potential cure for Norway's China 2007 woes, but he quickly encountered dissenting voices from within his own dressing room. Elegant midfield anchor Ingvild Stensland led the chorus, saying: "I don't agree it's physique we need. I think we need to be better with the ball, technically and tactically. We gave the ball away too often and that's why we are so shattered".

Solveig Gulbrandsen was of a similar mind, suggesting that Berntsen's focus on the team's physical shortcomings came at the risk of missing the bigger picture. "It was a little point to bring out, but there are many others weaknesses technically and tactically. We need be more offensive."

The midfield playmaker made no secret of her disdain for Norway's timid performance in their anticlimactic 4-1 defeat to the USA, describing their showing as "embarrassing" and "the pits". The mood of gloom only deepened when the team's other Gulbrandsen, adidas Bronze Shoe-winner Ragnhild, revealed that she is to resume her international retirement having struggled with the punishing demands of a major international tournament. "I've just had too many problems with my knees," she told FIFA.com after Sunday's defeat. "It's been a great experience at this tournament but it's good to be able to go out while it's still my choice to make."

However, despite facing a future without his most dependable source of goals, Berntsen was insistent that Norway can look ahead with justifiable optimism. He said: "We have the aim to fight for medals in every tournament and we showed that we can do that here. We have qualified for the Olympics, we have played some very good football and I think the players can be proud. Yes, we have some work to do, but I think the future looks quite bright."