Record-cap holder Julie Nelson headed home Northern Ireland’s first goal at a major tournament in their 4-1 European Championship defeat to Norway.
It was also the countries first appearance in a major tournament, where they lost out to Euro contenders Norway thanks to goals from Julie Blakstad, Frida Maanum, Caroline Graham Hansen and Guro Reiten.
“We knew it was going to be a difficult task,” Nelson said. “They’re not 11th in the world for no reason, and we were a bit nervy probably the first 15 minutes and conceded a couple of goals, but I thought we stepped up after that and did our best.
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Northern Ireland enjoyed a much better second half and made it far more difficult for Norway to find joy in front of goal, and Nelson was full of praise for her side’s effort.
“We restricted them,” she said. “They didn’t have many chances in the second half, and I think we built on the strength that we needed after conceding, we made ourselves hard to beat and that’s what we need to do.
Despite the loss, Nelson and the rest of the Northern Ireland team will surely see tonight’s game as a positively historic one, and the 37-year-old admitted it was “incredible” to score her country’s first goal at a major tournament.
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“Absolutely incredible, I definitely didn’t think I’d be the one getting on the scoresheet, it’s been a couple of years since I scored, an incredible feeling to score the first goal for Northern Ireland in a major championship.”
Speaking after the match, Northern Ireland manager Kenny Shiels suggested the nerves got the better of his side in the opening exchanges.
“Well you’re not happy when you get beat 4-1,” he said. “Extenuating circumstances, they were nervous the first 20, 25, 30 minutes, you can see Hansen and the other, how good they are, they’ve got the two best strikers in the world.
“We drew the last hour of the game and if you take out the penalty kick, you know, we actually won the last, it was one of them, it was hard to take the end scoreline.
“I thought we deserved better than that, when you reflect on it, their quality, we’re three years into this programme, and it’s going to take us ten years to get up into the top 20 in Europe.
“It’s going to take ten years to consolidate the coefficient of that level, and if we can continue to progress, then we can do it maybe a little bit quicker than that.
“But we have to get real and we have to understand it’s an emerging game in Northern Ireland.”
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