Norway leaves it late at World Cup
An 84th minute strike by Emilie Haavi gave Norway a winning start to the World Cup on Wednesday with a 1-0 victory over Equatorial Guinea in Augsburg, Germany.
Norway hit the post three times and looked destined for a draw against the tournament newcomers. But substitute Leni Larsen Kaurin broke free on the right, and passed low into the box where an unmarked Haavi slotted home.
Despite the loss, the west Africans from a nation of 670,000 citizens played with skill and willpower by far belying their FIFA ranking of 61, with captain Anonman having several clear chances.
"I had a feeling we could have won the game after all," Equatorial Guinea coach Marcello Frigerio said. "The country is new to all this. It is a completely new adventure."
Brazil was due to meet Australia in Moenchengladbach in the other Group D game late Wednesday. Realizing how close they had come, the west Africans were convinced they still had a big upset win within them.
"I still think we can progress" to the quarterfinals, Frigerio said ahead of Sunday's game against Australia.
The game could have turned as early as the second minute but the first smooth Norway attack ended when a diagonal shot from Haavi struck the inside of the post and refused to go in. Lene Mykjaland also hit the post in the 55th, as did Isabell Herlovsen two minutes later.
The African side appeared to having a charmed afternoon, but it too missed good chances.
Equatorial Guinea could have taken the lead in the 53rd when its standout player, the green-braided Anonman, forced a one-on-one with goalkeeper Ingrid Hjelmseth but put the ball inexplicably wide. She did likewise in the 72nd of an exciting match before 12,928 fans in a half-empty Augsburg Arena.
Norway increasingly piled on more pressure in the second half, and Haavi's goal was the reward. "Three points" said coach Eli Landsem when asked for the positives of the game.
She dismissed the muggy 28C heat could have given the Africans an edge. "That is no excuse. It was the nerves and the opening match."
Even though it was the lowest-ranked team in the tournament, Equatorial Guinea has been rising fast in the FIFA standings and the quality of its football proved why.
Anchored by goalie Miriam and central defender Carolina, Equatorial Guinea showed off fine positioning and close skills. Up front, Anonman added power and speed.
The team had a setback before the start of the championship when striker Jade Boho was suspended over Spanish citizenship issues.
The country had never played an official tournament game outside Africa, only a warmup game against Luxembourg, which is even smaller, in the run-up to the World Cup.