Chelsea’s Maren Mejlde, Maria Thorisdottir and Guro Reiten have sealed a spot in the quarter-final of the Women’s World Cup after eventually winning 4-1 on penalties, with two Blues netting against Australia.
Norway opened the scoring when Isabell Herlovsen buried a shot beyond the Australian goalkeeper, but it was a real sucker punch for the Norwegians when the Matildas equalised directly from a corner to send the knockout fixture to extra-time. However, four quality penalties, with two of them being scored by the Blues’ Mjelde and new signing Reiten, sent Norway through to the quarter-final for the seventh time in their World Cup history.
Tonight’s match-up on the French Riviera was the third meeting in the past four Women’s World Cups between the pair. In 2011 the Matildas knocked out the Gresshoppene – the only time the 1995 world champions have failed to progress to the last 16. Norway have also won six of the previous seven knockout matches in which they scored the first goal.
Chelsea defenders Mjelde and Thorisdottir played their fourth full game at this year’s World Cup, and so did the Blues’ new addition Reiten.
The first half was tight, with both teams having chances to go ahead. Australia almost opened the scoring on the half-hour when Sam Kerr unleashed a shot on goal, however Mjelde was there and made a perfectly timed block to deny the striker's effort. Norway responded instantly when Karina Saevik spotted and delivered a killer through-ball to Isabell Herlovsen and the Norwegian no.9 made no mistake in finishing into the far bottom corner with authority.
The first half ended dramatically. On the stroke of half-time Kerr sent in a dangerous cross which was controlled down by Thorisdottir’s upper arm and referee Reim Hussein blew her whistle and pointed to the spot with conviction. A VAR review took place, and after several minutes, the referee overturned her own decision and confirmed that it was not a handball from the Blues defender.
The second half began as action-packed as the first and you would have thought that fate was on Norway’s side tonight when a Kerr goal was ruled out as offside. The Australians' tournament top scorer slotted past Norway’s no.1 Ingrid Hjelmseth, but her well-placed effort counted for nothing. Momentum was with the Matildas, although they quickly became frustrated with Norway’s superb defensive organisation and particularly with the pairing of Mjelde and Thorisdottir who were guarding their territory at the back firmly.
With seven minutes remaining, Australia found an opening from a corner ball to take the game to extra-time. Elise Kellond-Knight, who plays her domestic football in the states at Reign FC, delivered a ball into the danger area that flew into the back of the net without the help of anyone.
The drama continued in extra-time, and the Matildas went down to 10 players when Alanna Kennedy tugged on Lisa-Marie Utland’s shirt. The player was through on goal, and after another VAR check, it was confirmed that the Australian no.14 got her marching orders.
For the second period of extra-time, Norway took advantage of their one player advantage, with several shots going close. Reiten’s effort grazed the crossbar, and Mjelde nearly knocked the ball in with her head, but the game could not be decided in the 120 minutes of play and penalties concluded the clash.
Norway won the coin toss and this evenings player of the match, Caroline Graham Hansen, sent the ‘keeper the wrong way and Kerr went first for Australia but skied her penalty into the stands. Reiten stepped up to take Norway’s second, and she placed her effort to the right side with ease. It was virtually confirmed that the Norwegians were quarter-finalists when Hjelmseth saved Emily Gielnik’s spot-kick. Captain Mjelde hammered hers home, Steph Catley scored the Matildas' first, but Ingird Syrstad Engen’s drilled strike sent the Scandinavians through to the next stage.
This night marks a massive moment for the Gresshoppene who are into the last eight for the first time since China 2007. After 120 minutes of high-tempo football, plus the emotion of a penalty shoot-out, Norway will need all the rest they can get before their possible quarter-final clash with England in Le Havre on 27 June, providing the Lionesses beat Cameroon tomorrow.