Having previously played at three FIFA Women’s World Cups™, Norway’s Trine Ronning is well versed in pre-match procedures. It was therefore nothing new to hear the chime of the FIFA anthems alongside the roar of eager fans at the Lansdowne Stadium in Ottawa before climbing the steps to emerge from the tunnel and enter the pitch. However, this time there was something different. Here she led Norway out as captain for the first time ever.
“It was a huge honour,” the visibly delighted 32-year-old told FIFA.com after her side’s 4-0 win in their opening group game over Thailand, adding that it was “an indescribable feeling” for her childhood dream of captaining her country to come true.
The mood in the Norway camp was positive even before kick-off, with the players smiling and clearly looking forward to the game as the team bus arrived at the stadium. “The atmosphere in the side has been great since day one but after that result it’s obviously even better now,” the centre-back said. “We smile most of the time. We believe in ourselves and have lots of self-confidence.”
So much so that the Scandinavians were remarkably laid back until just before the match got under way, and were laughing among themselves and with the mascots as they waited in the tunnel. Only once the music started playing outside did they fall silent and the growing sense of tension became more tangible. At this point Norway’s No7 showed why she was handed the captain’s armband, turning around and addressing her team-mates. “I wanted to take away some of the girls’ nervousness,” Ronning said. “I told them that my whole body was tingling and that my stomach felt strange. Some of them said: ‘I’m so glad you said that because I feel exactly the same,’ and then everyone started laughing.”
*Off the mark
*Norway were unable to translate that same sense of ease into their play initially, and it once again fell to Ronning to lead by example. With quarter of an hour played, she curled in a 25-yard free-kick to put the Europeans in front. Not only was it her maiden World Cup goal as captain, it was also her first ever strike at the tournament. “It was a fantastic time to score my first goal,” she said.
Ronning’s debut as captain was an unqualified success, but her duties did not end with the final whistle. Grinning from ear to ear and pumping her fists towards the backroom staff as she left the pitch en route to the changing room, she suddenly stopped and turned around. Ronning had spied a sack of balls, which she picked up and carried inside to help clear up.
It was a telling gesture from the third-oldest player in the Norway camp, highlighting the harmony and lack of pretentiousness within coach Even Pellerud’s squad. That will be again be crucial if they are to triumph in their next encounter in Canada, a meeting with title favourites Germany. “We played them in the European Championship final [which Germany won 1-0] and have had a lot of close games against them,” Ronning said. “This one’s not a must-win match but obviously we want to win it and have a good chance of doing so. We’re the underdogs and that suits us but we’ll have to take things up a notch and can’t afford to relax.”
Yet that fixture is still a few days away, leaving Ronning ample time to let her day of firsts sink in and enjoy her team’s latest triumph. There seemed little doubt she would do so as she left the Lansdowne Stadium with a huge smile still on her face.