A disciplined display was not enough to prevent Wales going down to a 1-0 defeat against runaway European Championship qualifying Group C leaders Norway in Oslo.
Guro Reiten gave the hosts the lead in the first half following a mistake from goalkeeper Laura O’Sullivan, who missed a punch from a short corner routine.
Wales, who are aiming to qualify for a first major finals, impressed in periods and Natasha Harding fired over, but Reiten’s goal proved decisive.
Wales, who saw a late penalty appeal for a handball waved away, are now seven points behind Group C leaders Norway and in a straight battle with Northern Ireland for a runners-up berth.
The nine group winners and three best runners-up qualify automatically for the tournament, with the remaining six runners-up entering play-offs.
Norway’s form in the group had seen them collect maximum points and score 32 goals at an average of eight per game heading into this one as they have wracked up huge scorelines that included a 13-0 win in the Faroe Islands.
However, Wales never seemed likely to crumble and succumb to a drubbing in a contest where they were always competitive.
Manager Jayne Ludlow opted for a 4-1-3-2 formation to allow midfielder Sophie Ingle to influence the game as much as possible in front of the defence with Angharad James and Josie Green tasked with creating a trio with the returning Jess Fishlock as Wales looked to press and nullify Norway.
Ingle, who was making her 100th appearance for Wales, joins Loren Dykes and Fishlock as just the third Wales play to become a centurion.
Fishlock’s return following an 18-month absence boosted Wales for what was a daunting contest.
The 33-year-old midfielder, who is Wales’ most capped player, was out for 13 months with a serious knee injury suffered in June 2019, but has returned to club football on loan at Reading and she was excellent on her return.
Her dipping effort from 25 yards on nine minutes tested Cecilie Fiskerstrand who was forced to tip over and Fishlock’s work-rate exemplified Wales’ intensity.
Wales also looked exceptionally dangerous from set-pieces with James’ delivery superb and for the first 27 minutes things could not have been better for Ludlow’s side with Norway restricted to speculative efforts.
Wales’ press was denying Norway space, but all the hard work was undone when the visitors switched off from a short corner routine on 28 minutes.
Chelsea’s Reiten drifted a ball into the penalty area that flummoxed goalkeeper O’Sullivan who attempted to punch and completely missed the ball, which continued into the net.
It was harsh on Wales, but they showed they were still competitive four minutes later when Kayleigh Green spotted Fiskerstrand well out of her goal, but her shot from long range drifted wide of the post.
Norway had few clear-cut chances as Wales marshalled them well, especially the dangerous Caroline Graham Hansen who had scored 10 goals in four qualifying games.
Wales started the second half on the front foot, just as they did the first, with Harding firing over from 20 yards after fine work by Rhiannon Roberts and Fishlock saw a penalty appeal waved away.
Ruiten almost doubled the lead when O’Sullivan’s poor pass gave her a sight of goal, but O’Sullivan redeemed herself by brilliantly blocking Hansen’s effort from close range just before the hour to keep Wales in with a shout.
O’Sullivan could not stop Hansen’s super strike on the hour, however, but the goal was contentiously ruled out for an offside, before Hansen’s incredible run culminated with Rachel Rowe clearing off the goal-line.
Roberts’ fantastic cross almost presented an equaliser for Green on 73 minutes but she just failed to make contact and record goalscorer Helen Ward also looked a threat as a late substitute.
Wales pushed for an equaliser as they gave every ounce of energy as Rowe’s shot was blocked and Fishlock headed wide, but Norway held firm despite a late claim for a penalty when the ball struck a Norwegian arm in the penalty area.