National team met near-empty stadium

Bookmark and Share

Norway’s men’s national football team, known locally as landslaget, won its first match in a long time on Tuesday night, against Finland, but hardly any Norwegian fans were in Oslo’s Ullevaal Stadium to cheer the victory. “It was sad to see the (empty) grandstands,” player Stefan Johansen told state broadcaster NRK. “Hats off to those who did come.”

The grandstads at Oslo's Ullevaal Stadium were as empty Tuesday night as they were here before a match 10 years ago. PHOTO: Wikipedia

The grandstads at Oslo’s Ullevaal Stadium were as empty Tuesday night as they were here before a match 10 years ago. PHOTO: Wikipedia

As newspaper Aftenposten noted, more than 23,000 seats were unfilled after exactly 4,675 spectators showed up. Another 323,000 watched the match on TV, but that made for rather poor ratings. The numbers were the lowest in 24 years, according to newspaper VG, since the national team played against the Færøe Islands in 1992.

Football boosters could try to blame the lack of interest on post-Easter blues, Finland’s failure to drum up excitement or even chilly temperatures, but commentators mostly cited the team’s poor record. Since Per-Mathias Høgmo took over as head coach three years ago, in a controversial move that ousted the popular Egil “Drillo” Olsen, he’s scored just eight victories out of 27 matches. Seven ended in ties and 12 with a loss.

Even though the Norwegians won Tuesday night, few were satisfied with the match including the players themselves. Some called it simply “boring.” The first half was “perhaps the worst in my time,” conceded Høgmo himself. “It was fine to win, but the match was extremely weak. We didn’t manage to produce anything in the first half. We’re not even close to the standard we want.”

Once again he blamed the young age of a team that’s been through a major generation shift and who “need to play their way to some routines, who need to learn to read the climate of the matches.” Jo Inge Berget scored as did Johansen, but late in the match.

Not even an appearance by Norway's football prodigy attracted crowds. PHOTO: Wikipedia

Not even an appearance by Norway’s football prodigy attracted crowds. PHOTO: Wikipedia

Not even an appearance by Norwegian wonderboy Martin Ødegaard, who became the youngest ever to play in a national match and went on to sign with Real Madrid, could attract crowds or boost spirits like it did last fall when Real Madrid played an exhibition match in Oslo. He’s playing in the third division in Spain at present, and questions were flying over whether his spot on a Real Madrid reserve team is good enough to develop the star the hometown crowd wants to see and even needs.

“I think Martin, despite his young age, has achieved a lot,” Høgmo told Aftenposten. Ødegaard himself seemed relieved that the hype around him has died down. “It’s about time,” the teenager who played for Drammen told NRK before Tuesday’s match.

The sparse turnout on Tuesday led to some calls on Wednesday to move national team matches outside Oslo, from the national Ullevaal Stadium to other cities where fans may be more enthusiastic. Some suggested Sør Arena in Kristiansand, or at the other end of the country in Tromsø, where a landslag match “would be a huge attraction,” according to the boss of Tromsø’s own football club, Ulf Johansen. Others disagreed, claiming that a national team that’s performing poorly won’t draw crowds anywhere.

Coach Høgmo, meanwhile, is under pressure and has been since losing to Hungary in November and ruining the national team’s hopes for a spot in the European Championships. “It wasn’t a fantastic day, so honest must we be,” he told NRK after Tuesday’s match. Berget was honest as well: “We wished more people would show up. Folks are disappointed after last fall and have things to prove.” The next matches are two months away, against Portugal, Iceland and Belgium, before Germany arrives at Oslo’s Ullevaal Stadium for the first World Cup qualifier in September.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund