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2019 Women's World Cup team previews: Norway

The golden soccer ball-shaped elephant in the room: Ada Hegerberg, the reigning Ballon d'Or Feminin winner hasn't suited up for Norway's national team since mid-2017, in protest of the federation's gender inequality. Hegerberg's outcry spurred change; an equal-pay measure was signed by male and female Norwegian captains that October, but Hegerberg didn't budge. She told CNN her decision was less about money and more about dedication to the women's game. Norway is already fearsome, but it's tough not to imagine its potential if it had found a middle ground with its superstar.

How they got here

The Grasshoppers edged reigning Euro champion Netherlands on the final day of the UEFA group stage qualifying to gain the automatic spot -- but they were already sitting pretty. They finished 7-0-1 and racked up 22 goals in eight qualifiers on their way to an automatic bid. Just as impressive were their four goals allowed, two of which were to Dutch maestro Vivianne Miedema.

Strengths/weaknesses

Norway piles on the goals. Four Norwegians scored two or more goals in qualification. Lisa-Marie Karlseng Utland of FC Rosengard and newly minted Barcelona product Caroline Graham Hansen combined for 13 goals together, more than 18 entire teams managed in the UEFA qualifying group stage.

Money stat: 4 of 7

Norway, the 1995 champion, quietly became one of the most accomplished World Cup teams of all time, finishing fourth or better in four of seven World Cups. The team has qualified for every World Cup.

Players to watch

Make no mistake about it: Norway's 2019 Algarve Cup-winning defense is staffed by Chelsea defenders Maren Mjelde and Maria Thorisdottir, but all eyes should be on Graham Hansen. The 24-year-old missed out on the World Cup in Canada in 2015 while recovering from a knee injury, and with her move to Barcelona completed, France is her time to shine.

Key game

Norway can qualify by hammering Nigeria in its opening match and skating past South Korea later on. But Norway's June 12 matchup with France is the most intriguing: Whoever wins Group A will likely face the United States in the quarters. Whichever team finishes second, however, is poised to face the runner-up of Group C in the round of 16, which could be a Brazil squad currently ranked at its lowest ever, before squaring off with either England or a shock upset out of the third-place pot. It's not an exaggeration that June 12 is the fulcrum of the entire tournament.

Local feedback

"The Grasshoppers have all of the pieces, even without Hegerberg, to make it out of Group A." -- former USWNT defender and Fox Sports analyst Danielle Slaton

Prediction

Norway won't be denied a second-place finish by scrappy South Korea. Should Norway draw Brazil in the round of 16, it will relish sending off Marta and Christiane before gearing up for the daunting task of an England team boasting some of the best talent on the planet, such as two-time PFA Women's Players' Player of the Year Lucy Bronze and reigning FWA Women's Footballer of the Year Nikita Parris.

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