Norway goalkeeper Aurora Mikalsen (R) says they face a “tough challenge” against in-form Japan in the Last 16 of the Women’s World Cup on Saturday (Marty MELVILLE)
Norway plan to put the brakes on Japan’s dazzling goal-scoring form at the Women’s World Cup when the former champions go head to head in the last 16 on Saturday.
Japan, the 2011 World Cup winners, chalked up 11 goals — the most so far of any team at this tournament — without conceding while recording three wins out of three in the group stage.
That included a 4-0 rout of Spain.
“They have been great, in terms of speed and technique,” Norway goalkeeper Aurora Mikalsen said of Japan on Friday. “It’s going to be a very tough challenge.”
However, the Norwegians are quietly confident of thwarting Japan’s fast-paced counterattacking game in Wellington.
“We have good energy going into this match and we are prepared,” Mikalsen added. “So let the best team win.”
Head coach Hege Riise admitted Norway’s shock 1-0 defeat in the opening game against co-hosts New Zealand, who have since been eliminated, had been a “devastating” wake-up call.
A nervy goalless draw with Switzerland followed before Norway reached the last 16 with an impressive 6-0 demolition of the Philippines when Roma forward Sophie Roman Haug hit a hat-trick.
Riise, 54, who won the 1995 Women’s World Cup as a player with Norway, said Lyon striker Ada Hegerberg is nearing full fitness after a groin injury.
However, she refused to say who out of Hegerberg and Roman Haug would start against Japan.
“Having two such quality strikers is a problem…of a luxury kind,” she said.
The jewel in the Norway team is Barcelona winger Caroline Graham Hansen, who scored her first goal of the tournament in the rout of the Philippines.
She was recalled to the line-up for that game despite claiming she had been disrespected by being dropped against Switzerland.
“Caroline can create a goal on her own, she has amazing pace — with or without the ball — which is really impressive,” said Norway midfielder Vilde Boe Risa.
“I’ve never seen a player like her do that before. She brings a lot to the team.”
Boe Risa said Norway face a “big challenge” to crack Japan’s resolute defence.
“Their defence has been good since the first game they played at the World Cup and it shows the level they are at,” added the Manchester United midfielder.
Meanwhile Japan coach Futoshi Ikeda said his side were high in confidence after emphatically outplaying Spain.
“But this is the knockout stage. We have one chance. We have to change our mindset and we have prepared for that,” said Ikeda.