Hegerberg back in Norway squad after long self-imposed exile

Ada Hegerberg’s self-imposed five-year exile from Norway’s national team is over.

The 26-year-old striker, widely regarded as one of the best players in women’s soccer, hasn’t played for her country since deciding to rule herself out of selection in 2017 because of what she perceived to be a general disregard for the women’s game in Norway.

Hegerberg is satisfied a “good solution” has been found in her bid for more respect for female players. So she’s back, having been selected on Thursday in Norway’s squad for matches against Kosovo and Poland next month.

It also means soccer fans should be able to see the first ever female winner of the Ballon d’Or — in 2018 — at the European Championship in England this year.

Hegerberg said she was pleased to be able to contribute again to the team, while also “continuing to fight for equality, both on and off the field.”

“I want to do my part so that we reach our goals, and inspire both young girls and boys across the country,” she said. “Now I can finally do it with the flag on my chest again.”

Hegerberg’s frustration was with what she perceived to be the uneven pace of progress and strategy in the women’s game in Norway. That stance meant she was a big name missing at the 2019 World Cup in France, where she plays at club level for Lyon.

Officials at the Norwegian Football Association — notably its president, Lisa Klaveness — pushed behind the scenes to bring Hegerberg back into the national fold, with her return possibly delayed after sustaining an anterior cruciate ligament injury in January 2020 that ruled her out for 21 months.

Hegerberg never went into any specific detail about the reasons for her exile, although Klaveness told The Associated Press in 2019 that the striker felt “she cannot be at her best in this system.”

“It has not been a good feeling to have one of our best players outside the national team,” Klaveness said on Thursday. “I have appreciated the conversations I have had with Ada.

“She is passionate about girls having as good opportunities as boys to be able to dream and to be able to achieve big goals on the football field.”

Norway coach Martin Sjögren said it had been a “challenging situation” with Hegerberg and is happy to be able to “put this behind us.”

“The foundation of this is a common understanding that we are different,” Sjögren said, “and that we respect each other as people and players.”

Hegerberg scored 38 goals in 66 appearances before she stopped playing for the team at the age of 21.

She has helped Lyon win five Champions League titles.

Norway is grouped with Austria, Northern Ireland and host nation England at Euro 2022.

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More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Steve Douglas is at https://twitter.com/sdouglas80

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