Kenny Shiels said his Northern Ireland side would learn from a 4-1 defeat to Norway but felt the scoreline was harsh on the Women’s European Championship debutants.
Making their first appearance at a major tournament, Northern Ireland found themselves 3-0 down with half an hour played against one of the dark horses for the competition, but rallied either side of half-time and gave themselves a glimmer of hope when Julie Nelson pulled a goal back shortly after the break.
Although Guro Reiten’s free-kick went on to give the match an especially one-sided scoreline, Shiels said he was pleased with how his team had responded to a “nervous” opening half-hour to avoid conceding another goal in open play in the final hour of the match.
“You’re not happy when you’re beat 4-1,” he told BBC Sport. “We were nervous in the first 25 to 30 minutes. Graham Hansen and Hegerberg, how good they are, they’re the two best strikers in the world and we drew the last hour of the game. If you take out the penalty kick, we actually won it.
“It was hard to take the end scoreline. I think we deserve better than that. Their quality, we’re three years into this programme and it’s going to take 10 years to get us into the top 20 in Europe. Ten years to consolidate the coefficient of that level. If we can continue to progress then we can do it a bit quicker than that.
“We have to get real and understand it’s an emerging game in Northern Ireland. We created a monster because we’ve been growing too quick.
“Teams of this ilk, it’s tough but we matched them in the last hour. They had more territorially but in that last hour we got 1-1. I felt we did a lot of good stuff, there was creativity, we got in behind them down the sides.
“For half an hour, we’ve pinned them back, that gives us encouragement, The girls were superb, as a group they have everything for the country. The fans should be proud of them.
“It’s learning all the time, we started to believe a little bit more as the game matured. Experience is brilliant for them, especially the younger ones. Caitlin McGuiness and Emily Wilson coming on, they’re all under 21s. What a learning curve for the five younger U21s. They will help the growth of the game.”
Goalscorer Nelson: ‘Incredible’ to make history
Julie Nelson not only became Northern Ireland’s first goalscorer at a major finals but also the oldest in Women’s European Championship history, nodding home at the age of 37 years and 33 days to give the Green and White Army something to celebrate inside St Mary’s on a day where they were determined not to let their spirits be dampened.
The Crusaders Strikers centre-back and her defensive colleagues found life difficult up against Norway’s effervescent front three early on, but improved to stifle them in open play and avoid a busier night for goalkeeper Jackie Burns than had seemed likely at first.
She said: “We knew it would be a difficult match. We were a bit nervous first 15 minutes and concede a couple of goals and stepped up after that and gave our best.
“I think we restricted them to not many chances in the second half. We built on the strength we had after conceding, that’s what we needed to do.
“Absolutely incredible [to score]. I didn’t think I was getting on the scoresheet. It’s been a couple of years since I scored!”
Norway and Northern Ireland are back in action on Monday. Norway will face England at the Amex Stadium (kick-off 8pm) while Northern Ireland take on Austria at St Mary’s (kick-off 5pm).
Group A will conclude on Friday July 15. Northern Ireland will face tournament hosts England in Southampton with Norway playing Austria at the Amex Stadium. Both games will kick off at 8pm.
Keep up with all the latest from Euro 2022 across Sky Sports and Sky Sports News this summer.
Coverage will be anchored by Sky Sports WSL presenter Caroline Barker, alongside Jessica Creighton and Kyle Walker. Meanwhile, Karen Carney, Sue Smith, Courtney Sweetman-Kirk and Laura Bassett will give analysis throughout the tournament.
They will also be joined by experienced England goalkeeper Karen Bardsley and Manchester City defender Esme Morgan.
The pundits and presenters will work from the Sky Sports Women’s Euro 2022 Mobile Presentation Bus, which will follow the Sky Sports News team around the country to the various stadiums where matches are being played.
In addition, Sky Sports’ Essential Football Podcast will be rebranded for the tournament to Sky Sports Women’s Euros Podcast from 21 June. Hosted by Charlotte Marsh and Anton Toloui, it will feature exclusive news and player interviews in addition to a strong programme line up around the tournament.