Norway claw for hard-fought point, draw World Cup favorite Germany
Former World champion Norway pulled off the first major surprise of the Women's World Cup Thursday afternoon when they held top-ranked Germany to a 1-1 draw at Ottawa's Lansdowne Stadium with a second-half performance that brought into question the Germans' lofty expectations for this tournament.
Anja Mittag opened the scoring for Germany before Maren Mjelde, with a stunning free kick, pulled Norway level just past the hour as the 1995 World Cup winners showed off their own credentials after looking to be in difficulty through much of the first half. Germany, twice a World Cup winner and regarded as one of the favorites this time, remained atop Group B on goal-difference, but is level on four points with the Norwegians after each has played two matches.
"We played a really good first half and that was a good situation to be in against a strong opponent like Norway," Germany coach Silvia Neid told FIFA's official website after the match. "However, we failed to score a second or third goal - and we had opportunities - and that would have allowed us a calmer second half. We just didn't play as well in the second half, there were more gaps, and the opponent seized their opportunity."
She added: "When we had the ball, we had too many bad passes -- in the midfield, at the back, and up front - and then, Norway gained hope. We tried to go through the middle, where there was no room at all, whereas in the first half we played well out wide. All in all, looking at the stats, we were the better team."
The Germans needed only six minutes to get on top and dominated the first half, but it required a late save from their captain Nadine Angerer to allow them to go into the interval with the 1-0 advantage and their failure to capitalize on several opportunities ultimately proved very costly.
Mittag put away the goal after Norwegian keeper Ingrid Hjelmseth failed to hold a drive from Dzsenifer Marozsan, pilling the ball directly at the scorer's feet. Maroszan continued to create openings throughout the first period, Norway allowing her far too much room to operate in central midfield, but Germany wasted chances to create a larger working margin as Hjelsmeth overcame her early error to play extremely well.
As a result, when 11th-ranked Norway finally did make an opening it required the best from Angerer, a former FIFA Women's Player of the Year, who flew to her top right hand corner to two-hand away a drive from Isabell Herlovsen, after the striker came wide open eight yards from goal and had the keeper at her mercy.
Norway took heart from that strong finish to the opening half and was a much greater force after the restart, controlling midfield more effectively and forcing the Germans into defensive positions that had not been previously needed.
In the 61st minute, after Saskia Bartusiak fouled Herlovsen right on the edge of the box, it was Mjelde who spun the 19-meter free kick off the underside of the bar and into the top left corner of Angerer's net. That got the Norwegians full value for the way they had turned the match around.
Unlike the first 45 minutes, the Norwegian midfield was closing down the space Germany had enjoyed and while both teams found it difficult to judge pace of their passes on the artificial surface, the German midfield, in particular, lost the fluency it had enjoyed. As time wound down, Germany looked ever less likely to break the deadlock as they rushed passes and failed to find front-runner Celia Sasic with any effective service.
He added: "Solveig Gulbranson's half-time entrance) changed the whole outlook and approach of her team-mates - they were confident passing in the midfield to her, and she has a good presence. The end result was fair, but we were lucky - (Germany) could have killed this game in the first half."