The situation with Norway’s women’s soccer team is like something out of the Iliad. In this analogy, the World Cup is the Trojan War, the Norwegian team is the heavily armed but nonetheless overmatched Greek army, and Ada Hegerberg is Achilles, the Grecian hero of otherworldly abilities who very well could’ve led his compatriots to victory if he hadn’t instead decided to sit things out because he was pissed off at the assholes in leadership.
Like the Greeks, Norway have what it takes to give it a real go in the World Cup, but they lack that special something that would’ve pushed them over the top. Like Achilles, Hegerberg is a figure of legend, a 23-year-old who is already probably the best individual player in the sport, the focal superstar of the best women’s club team in history, Olympique Lyon, the Goddess of goals (she’s scored 193 goals in 165 games for Lyon, including a hat trick last month in the Champions League final), the reigning winner of the Ballon d’Or. Also like Achilles, Hegerberg has felt disrespected by the people in charge of soccer in Norway, and so she has boycotted national team duty for two years now. Unlike the Iliad, where Achilles was eventually coaxed out of his protest and joined the war effort, it’s already too late for Hegerberg to save Norway.
Hegerberg’s beef with the Norwegian soccer federation is, to her, a struggle for gender equality. Here’s Hegerberg talking about it:
Though Hegerberg has refused to talk publicly about her specific reasons for quitting the national team, instead only saying that she had a frank discussion with the federation’s representatives in which she shared her thoughts on what needs to happen for her to believe her country provided women’s soccer with the same respect and opportunity as it does for men, it’s clear that it isn’t about money. Soon after Hegerberg removed herself from the team, Norway agreed to pay both men and women national team players the same amount, which doubled the women’s previous pay plan. However, Hegerberg has said that wasn’t enough, and has remained outside the national team setup. Remembering things like the jersey debacle from last World Cup, when oh-so-progressive sweatshop factory Nike wouldn’t provide Norway’s team with women-specific jerseys, it’s hard to argue with Hegerberg’s contention that women’s soccer is regularly treated as a second-class sport.
Though Hegerberg is absent from the World Cup, Norway aren’t, and there are still 23 women who will fight to realize their dreams and make their country proud by capturing some glory in France this summer. Their strategy is different than Hegerberg’s, but it’s no less admirable. It’s just too bad Norway have gotten in the way of displaying the best team possible, because the best Norway, armed with their best player, just might’ve proven to be the best in the world.
Goalkeepers: Ingrid Hjelmseth (Stabæk), Cecilie Fiskerstrand (LSK Kvinner), Oda Bogstad (Arna-Bjørnar)
Defenders: Ingrid Wold (LSK Kvinner), Maria Thorisdottir (Chelsea), Stine Hovland (Sandviken), Maren Mjelde (Chelsea), Cecilie Kvamme (Sandviken)
Midfielders: Synne Skinnes Hansen (LSK Kvinner), Vilde Bøe Risa (Kopparbergs/Göteborg), Caroline Graham Hansen (Barcelona), Ingrid Engen (LSK Kvinner), Guro Reiten (LSK Kvinner), Kristine Minde (Wolfsburg), Frida Maanum (Linköping), Karina Sævik (Kolbotn)
Forwards: Elise Thorsnes (LSK Kvinner), Isabell Herlovsen (Kolbotn), Lisa-Marie Karlseng Utland (Rosengård), Therese Åsland (LSK Kvinner), Amalie Eikeland (Sandviken), Emilie Haavi (LSK Kvinner), Emilie Nautnes (Arna-Bjørnar)
Gresshoppene (The Grasshoppers)
Even without Hegerberg, Norway are formidable. The Grasshoppers are solid all over the pitch. The woman expected to contribute most of the goals in their superstar player’s principled absence will be Isabell Herlovsen. Herlovsen might not be the biggest or strongest or fastest player in the tournament, but she is a very good goal scorer in her own right. The 30-year-old has been a stalwart for Norway over the years and, as long as she sticks around for another year or two, will almost certainly become Norway’s all-time leading scorer, as she’s only six goals away.
The best Norwegian in France will be Caroline Graham Hansen. The 24-year-old winger has everything—she can dribble, she can pass, and she can score. If Hansen can continue the club form that made her one of the best players on the best club in Germany and earned her a transfer to Barcelona earlier this year, Norway’s attack should be good.
On the other end of the pitch, club teammates Maren Mjelde and Maria Thorisdottir are the shepherds of the defense. The goals of Hansen, Herlovsen, and Lisa-Marie Karlseng Utland drive the team, but the steadiness of Mjelde and Thorisdottir keep them alive.
There’s a wide range of feasible results for Norway this summer. Lose their first match to a dangerous Nigeria team, fall to the hometown juggernaut of France in the second, and it wouldn’t be too much of a surprise to see them knocked out before the knockout rounds begin. Conversely, with a confidence-building performance in the group stage, it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility for Norway to get as far as the semifinals. It’s incredibly hard to see how Norway could win the whole thing, though, which is too bad, because with Hegerberg’s talents bolstering the current squad, there’s no telling how far Norway could go.
June 8, 3 p.m.: Norway vs. Nigeria at Stade Auguste Delaune
June 12, 3 p.m.: France vs. Norway at Stade de Nice
June 17, 3 p.m.: South Korea vs. Norway at Stade Auguste Delaune
All times Eastern