By now, we all know just about everything we need to know about our beloved Filipinas. Just last week, we knew almost nothing about them. After taking us all to a level of euphoria only a footballing nation can know, we can’t get enough about them. We know that an overwhelming majority of them were born outside of the Philippines, we know where they went to college, we know which of their parents are Filipino, we know which country they live in, etc. We’ve even contemplated upon the legitimacy of their representation of the Philippines. If you haven’t, then you should as part of your football literacy development. And we know that this Sunday, our Filipinas will be playing the most important football match in the history of our country.
As a career soccer coach, I have always felt that it is my responsibility not only to know my players well, but to know as much as I can about my opponent. I couldn’t help but follow my instincts. In order for us to anticipate more effectively the kind of game we’re going to have, here are some of the more critical pieces of information about our next opponents.
Norway are nothing short of a European powerhouse in women’s football. They are one of only seven countries to have qualified for every single World Cup tournament since the inception of the women’s tournament in 1991. In all but the 2011 edition, Norway has progressed into the knockout rounds, and in no less than half of these outings, they have contested the semi-finals, going all the way to the final match twice, winning it all in 1995. Six out of eight tournaments saw the Norsewomen in the quarter-finals. On the continental front, Norway have qualified for every single Euro championship tournament except for the first one in 1984. When Norway qualified for Euro in 1987 for the first time, they won the championship, and went on to play in the next three final matches thereafter, finishing second twice in a row and then recovering the crown in 1993. Out of the 13 European championships staged, Norway has been in the semi-finals nine times, equaled only by Sweden, and topped only by Germany’s 10. Norway’s women have won Olympic Gold and Bronze Medals. The Norwegians have become accustomed to going deep into a tournament; it is their country’s standard expectation of their women’s national soccer team.
This generation of Norwegian women is captained by Maren Mjelde, the anchor of their defensive line. Capped 167 times at 33 years old, Mjelde is on her third, and possibly last, World Cup go-round. She will be going into the final group match with particularly heightened intensity, knowing she may be on her last leg. Mjelde has been a blistering presence for Chelsea FC, who have won the Women’s Super League, England’s top flight, five times and captured four FA Cups since 2016 when the Blues signed her from Avaldsnes IL in Norway’s Toppserien.
The Women’s Super league is represented well in the Norwegian roster, with seven out 23 playing in England. The Norwegian left flank is staffed by Guro Reiten, Mjelde’s Chelsea teammate since 2019. At age 28, Reiten has scored 17 times for country in 82 appearances. The center-mid is sometimes quarterbacked by Arsenal’s Frida Maanum, who debuted for Norway’s senior squad at the age of 17 during the 2017 European Championship. Only 24 years old, Maanum already has 68 national team appearances. In their draw against Switzerland, Maanum slid over to the right and Vilde Risa took over the center. Risa has made 29 appearances in Manchester United’s midfield since 2021, and has been capped by Norway 62 times. With this all-WSL alignment, Norway fields a highly experienced, yet still young and very energetic midfield.
Gunning for a win on Sunday, Norway will undoubtedly field a three-forward formation. Their most dangerous scoring threats aren’t based in England at all; one is in France and one in Spain. Since 2014, Ada Hegerberg has been tearing up nets for Olympique Lyon, the winningest club in the world who have amassed 16 French league championships, 10 French cups, and a record eight UEFA Champions League titles. In Champions League play alone, OL has tallied 466 goals accumulating a mind-blowing +402 goal differential (that’s right, no typographical error there). Fifty-five of those goals were scored by Hegerberg, the current UEFA Champions League leading scorer. It’s unfortunate for Norway, but a blessing for the Philippines perhaps, that Hegerberg suffered a groin injury during warmups right before the game against Switzerland. The most prolific and most decorated goal-scorer in Europe today may or may not be ready by Sunday; her status remains up in the air. Certainly, the entire Filipino diaspora should be closely monitoring developments around Hegerberg’s injury, a critical factor that will most definitely impact the match outcome.
Before Caroline Graham Hansen was signed by Barcelona in 2019, she was winning championships with VfL Wolfsburg in Germany’s Frauen-Bundesliga. She continued her championship streak with Barcelona, winning four straight Primera Division titles along with two UEFA Champions League trophies and a host of copas. Hansen has featured in the Norwegian offense since 2011 at just 17 years old. Now 28, the Switzerland tie was Hansen’s 100th cap. Together, Hegerberg and Hansen have tallied 87 international goals for Norway.
Quite the polar opposite of us, Norway has a long, storied history with women’s football, a program that has achieved success at the very highest level. Now, their backs are up against the wall, barely alive, clinging by one point. Their locker room is in disarray, frustrated, at least one superstar player at odds with their coach Hege Riise. This is our chance to go in for the kill, to exploit a rare moment of weakness, to find the Achilles heel and slice this giant down with a stroke from our mighty balisong. Given Norway’s experience though, it would be better to assume these vikings are coming in to the final group stage match intent upon playing the best game of their lives. Norway will be the Philippines’ most dangerous opponents thus far, and if the Filipinas do not go into the final group stage match with sharpened balisongs intent upon playing the best game of their lives, then we are in for a rude awakening to a marauding horde plundering our collective national euphoria.
A Philippine victory over Norway on Sunday would be historic for both countries. For us of course, it would be our first foray into the knockout rounds. For Norway, it would be the first time they will have failed to win a match at a World Cup tournament.
As a nascent footballing nation, win or lose, we must see this as not the end, but just the beginning. From here, we do what it takes to keep qualifying and keep improving our results. Our goal is to be consistent qualifiers, for the Philippines to be ever-present in World Cup after World Cup, just like – well – Norway.
Kokoy Severino is a career youth soccer coach and an executive officer of the Football for Peace Movement.