The prolific Ada Hegerberg wants to cap her return from the international wilderness by firing Norway back among the elite at the Women’s World Cup starting this week.
The former Ballon d’Or winner stepped away from the international scene in 2017 citing concerns over the inequality of treatment given to women’s teams by the Norwegian football federation.
The striker’s self-imposed exile lasted five years and meant she missed the 2019 World Cup, where Norway reached the quarter-finals, before she returned in time for Euro 2022.
That was a forgettable tournament however — Hegerberg failed to score as Norway lost 8-0 to hosts England on the way to a group-stage exit.
Now the 28-year-old, the all-time top scorer in the Women’s Champions League, is determined to make up for lost time when Norway kick the World Cup off against co-hosts New Zealand on Thursday.
“There is always work to be done with the national team but it feels good to be with them again,” she told AFP ahead of the tournament from Lyon, where she plays for the French champions and record eight-time Champions League winners.
“It gives me more of a chance to make a contribution to women’s football, on and off the field.”
– Injury nightmare –
Aside from her international exile, Hegerberg — who helped her country reach the last 16 at the 2015 World Cup — has also spent much of the last few years out injured.
She suffered a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee in January 2020 and in September that year underwent surgery on a stress fracture to her left tibia.
She did not return to action until October 2021, then missed a large chunk of the season just finished due to injury too.
“I finished the season well with Lyon. I was getting better as it went along,” she said, after helping her club retain the French title.
“There was quite an intense period because I came back during the run-in to the end of the season when we had some really important matches,” she added.
“It was a tiring season because I needed to put a lot of work in to get back to my best. I am proud. I never doubted I would.”
– ‘Caught napping’ –
And so what of Norway’s chances in New Zealand and Australia?
They will be expected to progress out of a Group A which also includes Switzerland and the Philippines, and will hope to get to the last eight at least.
Hegerberg is cautious.
“I don’t think we can say we are one of the favourites,” she said of a team also featuring the likes of Chelsea’s Maren Mjelde and Guro Reiten, and the Barcelona pair of Ingrid Syrstad Engen and Caroline Graham Hansen.
“We have lots of quality and desire. We need to be ambitious but also realistic — our most recent results have not been very good, so we want to give off a better image of Norway.”
They were powerhouses of the women’s international game a generation ago, reaching the first Women’s World Cup final in 1991 and winning the trophy four years later.
Twice European champions, they also won Olympic gold in 2000.
“We have quite a history, having won the World Cup and been Olympic champions, but things have become a bit harder in the last few years,” said Hegerberg.
“We got caught napping. That doesn’t mean we can’t achieve anything anymore because we have some quality players, but we need to get them all playing together to get the best out of the team.
“It’s really interesting. I can’t wait.”