Norway’s latest Euros humiliation seems impossible to recover from. Can they do it anyway?

Football has a habit of leaving scars. There are the literal physical ones that line the flesh of those who play it, that linger long after stitches or rivets have been removed from the skin. When it comes to emotional scars, we usually think of fans bearing the weight of so many near misses and joke about supporting a team for their sins.

However, it is in footballers’ interests to put painful losses behind them – they will be far better players if they can forget the penalty that cost them a title or the time they lost their point in a trophy have left finals. Still, there are some losses that cut so deep, have such an impact, that a memory will always remain.

For the Norway women’s national team, Monday night’s 8-0 defeat by England in Group A of Euro 2022 was a crippling defeat from which they may never recover.

Of course there were tears after Norway’s elimination from the group stage at Euro 2017, just as there was no way to still the sobs after the same team lost the final of the same competition in 2013. But Monday was different. It was the kind of defeat that shook all of Norwegian football – not only was it the widest margin of error by any team at Euros, male or female, but it was the biggest individual defeat in the history of the Norwegian women’s national team.

As the players spoke to the media after the game, still clad in sweat and shame-soaked shirts, one couldn’t help but feel the emotion radiated by each member of the squad who had to face the press. Speaking to ESPN, Norway captain Maren Mjelde described the feeling as “[her] Heart bleeds a little.”

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While some players struggled to hide their frustration and anger, struggling not to spit out their words in disgust, others used their last ounce of energy to keep themselves from letting the misery overwhelm them with twitching lips. Professional pride had been hurt, but worse, the players bore the burden of keeping a nation of over five million on their shoulders, the Norwegian badge never so heavy on their shirts. Eight-zero has etched itself into a nation’s collective consciousness, the Norwegian delegation in Brighton is part of football’s disgrace.

As Caroline Graham Hansen said after the loss: “I think the problem today is that we’re not doing what we should be doing on defense and if you’re not doing well on defense you’re not in a good position to get the ball conquer and to play loose in the offensive. I think we didn’t work as a team today and then you can see that each of us is not capable.”

The team was quite simply in shambles. Players were fragmented across the pitch, formation unfathomable, obvious weaknesses exposed as England brought a battering ram to the ruins of the visiting defence.

Because as devastating as the score was, the result was inevitable. Norway had never really taken off under coach Martin Sjögren and while they showed their offensive prowess against lower-tier nations, there was a persistent problem of team cohesion against stronger nations.

After the defeat, parts of the Norwegian press lamented the team’s lack of preparation against teams in the FIFA top ten, but the problems have remained hidden from view for all to see over the past four years. The defense was a conglomeration of repurposed midfielders and attackers who only weakened during Sjögren’s tenure, the midfield proper lacked dexterity and all too often the responsibility fell on Graham Hansen to be the savior in Ada Hegerberg’s absence .

When Norway was knocked out of the 2019 World Cup by England in 2019, the team had already looked broken at the final whistle. The team had booked their spot in the last eight after two hours and a round of penalties against Australia in the sweltering heat of Nice, France, and by the time the ball started rolling in Le Havre the players looked mentally and physically exhausted.

After Lucy Bronze was sent off by England at the 2015 World Cup when she kicked the ball in from outside the box, players seemed blindsided to the England defender as she took a position away from her team-mates France on an early free-kick. The move didn’t work, but when the Lionesses were granted another set piece soon after, Bronze took the same position, only to be ignored by the entire Norwegian team. Predictably, she scored as strongly as she did four years ago. The players didn’t even have the energy to move to intercept the defender.

Days ago at the AMEX Stadium in Brighton, Norway could offer even less than three years earlier against the same opponents. A soft penalty in the 12th minute set the stage for the worst night in Norwegian football history.

England had played well, there was no question about that, but they had played against a side who didn’t move to defend, didn’t follow runs or even jump to try and win headers. Watching the game wasn’t so much seeing women versus girls as it was a team of footballers versus training cones, lifeless and malleable.

In the mixed zone, Graham Hansen had spoken about what had gone wrong as part of the team’s recovery for the upcoming Austria game. But if you look at the last 80 minutes of the game, it will be difficult to find anything that went right. There hardly seemed to be a plan A, let alone B or C for Norway. Form offered little defensive strength or attacking boost, players were left to their own devices on the pitch as Sjogren patrolled his dugout and refused to interfere – his first replacement came at half-time when his team was already 6-0 down.

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Despite the defeat, overwhelming as it was, Norway are still in this year’s Euro competition – but they need to win their last group game against Austria on Friday if they want to advance to the knockout rounds. To get past Austria, they must return to the scene of their English nightmare: Brighton.

The players seemed immediately aware afterwards that they could not prepare for defeat with a mandatory win. Although they have already begun their mental preparation, including working with respected Norwegian sports psychologist Britt Tajet-Foxell, the fact that their game against Austria is taking place in Brighton could well be disastrous.

Should Norway manage to show their superior attacking football against a defensively determined Austrian side who will no doubt lick their lips at the prospect of such a weak defence, they will face Germany in the quarter-finals. Not a good deed and such.

Win, lose or draw on Friday, Sjögren’s position has become untenable as several former Norway internationals call for his head, but the broader question of where the side will go after July remains elusive. The scars left by the defeat by England may never fully fade. Norway’s latest Euros humiliation seems impossible to recover from. Can they do it anyway?

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