2011 Women's World Cup Preview - Norway

Jun 25, 2011 - 9:52 PM Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Norway has slowly faded from the spotlight over the last few years and enters the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup ranked just ninth in the world.

Although on the surface it's a lofty ranking, with all eight countries ranked above the Norwegians also playing in Germany this year, their streak of making the knockout stages in the previous six tournaments could be in jeopardy.

But the pedigree of Norway cannot be overlooked, as the country is one of just three to ever lift the World Cup trophy. Although that was in 1995, the U.S. - which has won two - last won the title in 1999. Germany has won the last two.

On the European level, Norway is one of just three teams to ever lift the Euro title - winning in 1987 and 1993 - and the country can also claim a gold medal at the 2000 Olympic Games.

Eli Landsem, the first female manager in Norway's history, is now responsible for guiding the country back into the conversation as one of the world's elite teams.

Norway was impressive in qualifying for the World Cup, winning seven of eight games with a tie in the other to accumulate 22 points to top Group 2. In those eight matches, the Norwegians conceded just two goals.

After the retirement of veteran goalie Bente Nordby, Norway was expected to be weak on the back line. But Ingrid Hjelmseth has stepped into the job after she missed the last two World Cups through injury.

Although Hjelmseth was just a spectator in the United States in 2003 and China in 2007, she believes this team has some qualities that trump previous years.

"The youngsters coming into the team are more skilful and have great levels of fitness," Hjelmseth said on FIFA's website. "With what they bring to the side, the team today is technically better and more competitive."

Defender Ane Stangeland remains a key player for Norway, while Lene Mykjaland, Ingvild Stensland and 22-year-old striker Isabell Lehn Herlovsen, who was born in Germany, are also important to the team's success.

But Norway struggled earlier this year at the Algarve Cup, finishing third in a group with the U.S. and Japan - two other World Cup participants - and ended fifth in the tournament thanks to a shootout win over Denmark.

Of the four World Cup qualifiers in the tournament, Norway finished the lowest among the group. But for a country that has never missed a World Cup or Euro finals, it's tough to rule out the Norwegians.

In Group D with Australia, Brazil and Equatorial Guinea, Norway remains one of the favorites to advance to the knockout round. From there, Norway midfielder Leni Larsen Kaurin said, "anything can happen."

"I think we have a decent chance at the World Cup," she continued. "We could win gold, but everything would have to go our way for that to happen."


-- FIFA World Cup qualifier: 1991, 1995, 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011.

-- FIFA World Cup first: 1995.

-- FIFA World Cup second: 1991.

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