Ingrid Hjelmseth has not exactly had the best of luck in her international career. The Norwegian had the misfortune to be of the same generation as Bente Nordby, the highly-regarded custodian who relegated her to second choice keeper in the national team for many years.
If that were not hard enough, two cruel and untimely injuries denied her any role at the last two FIFA Women’s World Cups™. However, the 30-year-old never gave up hope and, after finally making the No1 jersey her own for the UEFA Women’s EURO 2009 in Finland, she’s daring to dream about Germany 2011.
“It’ll be very emotional,” the Stabaek keeper told FIFA.com. “The atmosphere in Germany is going to be spectacular as a huge amount of tickets have already been sold. The tournament's hugely motivating for every player involved, but especially for us, as there’s sure to be a lot of our fans there. Our goal is to compete for a medal and also earn one of the berths for the Olympic Football Tournament at London 2012."
At the recently concluded Algarve Cup, Norway were subjected to their first serious examinations ahead of the upcoming FIFA Women’s World Cup. After two wins and two defeats (against fellow Germany 2011 qualifiers USA and Japan) the Scandinavians ended the tournament in a modest fifth place.
As Hjelmseth reflected: “There were some very strong teams there and we came up against the USA, the world’s top-ranked side. The competition has forced us to really dig deep to try and hit the necessary heights. It’s a very good tournament and was a great chance to prepare for the months ahead. Overall I think the team did a good job. The season in Norway begins at the start of April, so only now are we getting back to our best and competing again. I expect a particularly competitive campaign as all of us want to make the final squad come June."
She was one of the best keepers in the world and I learned a lot from her, but her legacy means I shoulder a lot of responsibility in my current position.
In Hjelmseth’s case, the coming months will also be about avoiding the kind of injuries that dashed her previous FIFA World Cup dreams. “They were very tough times. In 2003 I broke my wrist two days before the first game and had to go home, while in 2007 I tore ligaments in my knee. It was a bitter blow but Germany 2011 will be my World Cup."
Between injuries, the Skjetten native stoically accepted her role as reserve keeper while Nordby shone for the national team. “She was one of the best keepers in the world and I learned a lot from her, but her legacy means I shoulder a lot of responsibility in my current position,” she acknowleged.
Hjelmseth is now one of the veterans in a squad currently looking to a new generation of players. “The youngsters coming into the team are more skilful and have great levels of fitness. With what they bring to the side, the team today is technically better and more competitive.”
The player is also aware of the perception that the quality of goalkeeping in the women’s game is not on a par with other positions, but she defends her fellow keepers and says specialist coaches are what is needed. “I don’t agree with those that say we keepers are the weak link. It’s true that the outfield players might dazzle more, but there are some superb keepers, like USA’s Hope Solo or Nadine Angerer of Germany. Training and preparation is difficult and very solitary for keepers, as we still don’t have dedicated coaches like they do in the men’s game. Still, everyone’s working hard and doing a great job.”
Hjelmseth spends about 60 per cent of her time in her engineering job in Oslo and explains how she balances the twin vocations. “It suits me to have another activity and not be thinking about football all the time. I really like my work and it’s a great way to have a mental workout,” she said, before concluding our interview with her thoughts on the future. “While it’s still economically viable and I’m physically able, I’ll keep playing. I’m not setting a time limit on it but I would like to be still here come the 2012 Olympics.”