Caroline Graham Hansen’s public criticism of coach Hege Riise for dropping her for the goalless draw with Switzerland has laid bare fractures within a Norway squad on the brink of an early Women’s World Cup exit.
Barcelona winger Graham Hansen was surprisingly left out of the starting line-up on Tuesday, dropped along with club colleague Ingrid Syrstad Engen and forward Julie Blakstad.
An injury to prolific forward Ada Hegerberg in the warm-up then forced Norway into another change at the last minute in damp and dreary conditions in Hamilton.
Graham Hansen belatedly won her 100th cap when she was introduced early in the second half but could not inspire her team to victory and the 0-0 scoreline means the former World Cup winners remain without a goal or win in Group A after two matches.
“I really feel like I’ve been dragged along for a whole year,” the 28-year-old Graham Hansen told Norwegian broadcaster Viaplay after the game, making little effort to hide her anger.
“People talk all the time about ‘standing together as a team’ and ‘standing together as a nation’.
“It is not true that you should get anything for free in this life, but I thought I had earned a certain amount of respect,” she added.
Graham Hansen played for Norway in their disastrous European Championship campaign last year, when they lost 8-0 to hosts England on the way to a group-stage exit.
She then announced in August last year that she was taking a break from international duty, blaming heart problems and exhaustion.
She had missed part of the previous season after suffering chest pains and a high heart rate during a match.
Her announcement came just after Riise — a star of the Norway team that won the 1995 World Cup — was appointed coach.
Graham Hansen returned for this World Cup in Australia and New Zealand and her comeback seemed to be the boost that Norway needed, along with the selection of the injury-prone but still-dangerous Hegerberg.
– Coach defends decision –
Yet both players struggled in the 1-0 defeat to co-hosts New Zealand in the tournament’s opening game and Riise stuck by the decision to drop Graham Hansen on Tuesday.
“I reached the decision in the best interest of my team and I defend my decision. I stick by my assessment,” said Riise.
Hegerberg, the UEFA Champions League’s all-time top scorer, had been in a five-year self-imposed exile from the national team before returning for the Euro 12 months ago.
She had little impact on that campaign and again struggled as Norway lost to New Zealand in Auckland in the opener of the World Cup.
Supposed to start against Switzerland, Hegerberg lined up for the national anthems but then promptly headed back down the tunnel just before kick-off.
The Norwegian Football Association said she had picked up a groin injury right at the end of the warm-up and Riise decided to replace her with Sophie Roman Haug rather than risk having to make an early substitution.
“I felt discomfort when sprinting right after the anthems,” Hegerberg wrote in a social media post.
“We decided with the staff that no risk should be taken and no subs should be wasted in such an important game for us,” she added.
“We move on.”
Between an unfit Hegerberg and an unhappy Graham Hansen, Riise now faces big decisions ahead of Norway’s final Group A game against the Philippines, which they must win to stand a chance of reaching the last 16.