Tuesday 16 June 2020, 11:37

Celebrating Norway’s world-conquering Class of 95

  • Norway won the FIFA Women’s World Cup 25 years ago today

  • Germany beaten 2-0 in the final in Solna, Sweden

  • Hege Riise: "That was the best moment of my career"

Twenty-five years ago today, Norway were on top of the world. They had become just the second team to win the FIFA Women’s World Cup™ and, a quarter-of-a-century on, remain one of just four who have done so.

This nation of just five million people is also, by some distance, the smallest to have reached the pinnacle of women’s football. But although they are dwarfed by fellow champions USA, Germany and Japan, Norway had a well established record during that era for punching considerably above their weight.

Between 1987 and 2000, they were twice crowned European champions, won Olympic gold and reached two Women’s World Cup Finals. But Norway’s crowning moment arrived on a rainy June afternoon in Solna, Sweden, when they defeated old foes Germany to secure the prize they most coveted.

“That was the best moment of my career without any doubt,” Hege Riise, Norway’s star player and scorer of the Final’s opening goal, told FIFA.com. “Winning the Olympics was wonderful, but the flow of the tournament wasn’t the same. That '95 World Cup was my best experience.”

That experience was all the sweeter for Riise as, four years earlier, she had experienced the other side of a FIFA Women’s World Cup Final, losing 2-1 to a Michelle Akers-inspired USA. She had earlier been one of the 22 players who lined up for the tournament’s first-ever match, contested against hosts China PR in front of 65,000 fans. “It was then I knew the Women’s World Cup could be something really special,” she later reflected.

Riise had been a youngster at China 1991, but came into the Swedish-hosted finals four years later as one of the game’s most admired and accomplished players. Indeed, she returned home after the Final not only with a winner’s medal, but clutching the award for the tournament’s top performer.

“That Golden Ball is something I’m still really so proud of,” she said. “I did feel like I had a fantastic tournament, and I enjoyed every minute of being out there. I was in such good shape; I just felt like nothing could stop me.

adidas Golden Ball winner Hege Riise (Norway, centre), 
adidas Silver Ball: Gro Espeseth (Sweden, left) and adidas Bronze Ball: Ann Kristin Aarones (Norway, right) 

“I think most of the team felt that way in ‘95. We had the same coach from ’91 (Even Pellerud), most of the same players and we had developed a way of training – really intense – that meant we were in the best shape of our careers, feeling pretty much unstoppable, by the time the World Cup came around.”

It showed. Drawn in a group with Canada, England and Nigeria, the Norwegians scored a remarkable 17 times without reply before sweeping aside Denmark in the last eight. That set up a rematch of the ’91 Final in the last four against an imposing US side featuring, among others, Akers, Mia Hamm, and Carin Jennings.

Ann Kristin Aarones grabbed the game’s only goal, although the big striker – who finished as the tournament’s top scorer – admitted to a degree of fortune. “In the final minutes I think they hit the crossbar three times,” she told FIFA.com. “USA probably felt we stole the gold from them.”

Not that seeing off the holders guaranteed Norway the trophy. Awaiting in the Final were a Germany side that, just three months earlier, had won their third successive UEFA Women’s EURO. In the two previous continental finals, they had beaten the Norwegians by an aggregate score of 7-2.

But amid steady, driving rain in Solna, it was Riise who found the spark of inspiration needed, scoring one of the Women’s World Cup’s most famous goals to give her side a 37th-minute lead. “Some moments you just can’t forget and that goal in the final is one for me,” she said, smiling.

Three minutes later, Marianne Pettersen made it 2-0. But if onlookers considered Germany’s fate all but sealed, Riise & Co saw the danger of complacency.

“Although we were so clearly on top, we knew it was the Germans, who never give up. So we didn’t relax until the final whistle,” she said. “Then we really had a party. We even had two military planes flying alongside ours to give us a special escort back to Norway, where there was a big celebration at the airport.”

The festivities had been hard-earned, and were well deserved. As Aarones reflected: “It’s not often that Norway wins a World Cup.”