Wales Women’s hopes of qualifying for 2022 Euros suffer big blow with 1-0 defeat to Norway
Wales Women’s 1-0 defeat to Norway means their hopes of qualifying for a first major tournament are now out of their control.
A superb defensive display and a solid performance from goalkeeper Laura O’Sullivan meant Jayne Ludlow’s side went into the break 0-0 at Cardiff City Stadium, but Frida Maanum’s strike after 60 minutes rewarded Norway for piling on the pressure.
Wales headed into their penultimate European Women’s Championship qualifier at Cardiff City Stadium in second place in group C, but a defeat combined with Northern Ireland winning 1-0 against Belarus means Wales’ Euro play-off hopes have taken a real blow.
Northern Ireland have two games remaining in the campaign compared to Wales’ one (against Belarus in December), so they hold a real advantage in the race to finish second in the group, despite losing 6-0 twice to Norway in comparison to Wales’ two 1-0 defeats.
If Wales and Northern Ireland were to finish the campaign level on points, it is Northern Ireland who would edge the head-to-head record on away goals. Finishing second in the group would mean at least a play-off spot.
As for group leaders Norway, taking three points in Cardiff means they have officially qualified for the 2022 Euros.
Wales had started so well, clearly setting up to nullify Norway’s threat and come away with a crucial point, with a wide shot from Jess Fishlock outside the box less than five minutes in displaying their intent.
O’Sullivan made a number of strong saves and decisions, collecting Elise Thorsnes’ low shot after she fired over the bar, followed by a fantastic save from O’Sullivan when left-back Julie Blakstad tried her luck with a 30-yard shot.
Jess Fishlock momentarily eased the defensive pressure with a forceful run from Wales’ penalty area which Norway halted with a foul, while Caroline Graham Hansen was yellow carded minutes later for a foul on Rachel Rowe.
A scrappy affair ensued in Wales’ box from a Guro Reiten corner before Norway were penalised for offside, but Wales’ defence held up as they headed into the break, having enjoyed a successful tactical opening 45 by frustrating the visitors.
Norway came out and dominated possession early in the second half, but a low shot from Karina Saevik was blocked by O’Sullivan and captain Sophie Ingle headed away a cross from goal. Fishlock put in an admirable block when Norway right-back Ingrid Wold had a decent chance but fortunately for the hosts it went wayward.
After holding strong at the back for the full hour, it was a defensive error from Wales which ultimately led to conceding a goal at 61 minutes.
When Wales forward Kayleigh Green tried to break for Wales, Frida Maanum stole possession and ran through to strike from the edge of the box. With Elise Hughes unable to intercept due to Thorsnes covering the ball, Maanum fired powerfully into the corner to break the deadlock.
Ludlow’s side played with urgency and serious attacking intent thereafter in a bid to equalise, with Gemma Evans, Lily Woodham and Georgia Walters coming on for Elise Hughes, Helen Ward and Kayleigh Green respectively.
Angharad James tried to chase down the ball from Norway goalkeeper Cecilie Fiskerstrand but was booked for a late challenge, Fishlock delivered a fine cross to the back post but Rowe couldn’t connect well enough.
Minutes later, a close shot across goal from Fishlock went wide, a Gemma Evans cross almost connected with Tash Harding in front of Norway’s goal, and James took her chance with a shot on goal but it was neatly collected by the keeper.
Wales ended by creating plenty of chances in a bid to grab a point, but a well-placed Angharad James corner in the dying moments failed to materialise as substitute Georgia Walters headed the ball high and wide.
Wales also saw two penalty appeals waved away by referee Irina Mirt.