Norway eased to a 4-1 win over out-classed Northern Ireland in their Women’s Euro 2022 opener on Thursday.
Julie Blakstad and Frida Maanum gave Norway the perfect start with goals inside the first 13 minutes at Southampton.
Caroline Graham Hansen’s penalty put the two-time European champions on course to ruin Northern Ireland major women’s tournament debut.
Julie Nelson, Northern Ireland’s most-capped female player, gave the competition’s lowest-ranked nation brief hope of an unlikely comeback just after the interval.
But Guro Reiten’s free-kick sealed a convincing success for Martin Sjogren’s side, who moved level on three points with hosts England at the top of Group A.
“I’m very pleased with the first 45 minutes, but then Northern Ireland came back, we got a bit sloppy and we can’t be that in a big tournament because then you will get punished, which is what happened,” Sjogren said.
“But we bounced back quite quickly, so I’m very happy with our performance. We could have scored a couple more in the first half.”
Northern Ireland boss Kenny Shiels added: “We are three years into this programme and it’s going to take 10 years to get us into the top 20 in Europe.
“We have to get real and understand it’s an emerging game in Northern Ireland. We have grown too quickly and we are playing against teams of this ilk, it’s tough. But the experience is brilliant for us.”
Following Wednesday’s Old Trafford attendance of 68,871 for England’s win over Austria, a more modest crowd of 9,146 turned out at St Mary’s.
Norway, winners of this competition in 1987 and 1993, twice thrashed their opponents 6-0 in qualifying and swiftly took control again.
Manchester City midfielder Blakstad claimed the 10th-minute opener, beating goalkeeper Jackie Burns at her near post with a low, left-footed drive.
Arsenal’s Maanum doubled the advantage three minutes later.
She dispossessed Chloe McCarron just outside the Northern Ireland area and was left with a simple finish into an unguarded net after receiving the ball back from Ada Hegerberg.
Northern Ireland contributed to their own downfall as the game effectively ended as a contest in the 31st minute.
VAR intervened after Nadene Caldwell inexplicably handled the ball in her own box following an inswinging corner, allowing impressive Barcelona star Hansen to dispatch the spot-kick.
Four minutes into the second half, Rachel Furness smashed the ball back across the box after Norway made a mess of clearing a corner and 37-year-old centre-back Nelson nodded over the line.
Norway quickly ended any hopes of a shock fightback as Chelsea winger Reiten restored the three-goal advantage, catching out Burns with a low, 20-yard free-kick.
Northern Ireland will seek to bounce back on Monday when Austria visit St Mary’s, while Norway travel along the south coast for a showdown with England in Brighton