Norway’ national football team (landslaget) will face Iceland and Portugal during the next week in the first matches of the qualification round for the UEFA European Championships in 2012. The action starts in Reykjavik on Friday.
The qualifying rounds for “Euro 2012,” which will be jointly hosted by Poland and Ukraine, take the form of groups from which the top team in each group will automatically qualify, along with the best-placed second-place team overall. The remaining second-place teams will face playoffs, with the winners then advancing to the tournament proper. Norway has been drawn in Group H with Portugal, Denmark, Cyprus and Iceland, and is already in Reykjavik, warming up to play Iceland on Friday before hosting Portugal in Oslo on Tuesday.
Norway enters the qualifying phase off the back of a surprise friendly win in August against an admittedly demoralized France, still recovering from an awful World Cup campaign. 25-year-old Brann forward Eric Huseklepp made an impression, capitalizing on French errors to score both goals in Norway’s 2-1 victory. Huseklepp, who has previously attracted interest from top English clubs, is the first player hailing from Bergen to score for the landslag since 1963, and will be looked to again to spur on his side to qualification.
Egil “Drillo” Olsen, the national team’s head coach nicknamed “football professor” by admirers, believes his 22-man squad blends experienced international stars like Aston Villa’s John Carew and Roma’s John Arne Riise, with up-and-coming domestic-based youngsters, such as the Rosenborg pairing of Per Ciljan Skjeldbred and Vadim Demidov and Riise’s younger brother Bjørn Helge (PicApp photo above, in the match against France).
“This is a stable team we have tried in many matches,” Olsen told the official landslag website. “There are not many surprises.”
Carew had to withdraw from the upcoming match against Iceland, though, because of knee trouble. That has set off a competition among other forwards like Huseklepp and veteran Steffen Iversen to replace him.
Despite failing to meet expectations at World Cup 2010, Portugal is undoubtedly the favourite to top Group H, and Norway will have to use the familiar surroundings of Oslo’s Ullevaal Stadium to full advantage to overcome a team they have never beaten in international competition and featuring world-class players like Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo. The match will also see Norwegian striker Mohammed ‘Moa’ Abdellaoue, (PicApp photo at right, in action during the friendly match against France), return to Oslo after his summer move from local club Vålerenga to the German Bundesliga’s Hannover.
Meanwhile, Iceland, which has never qualified for the European Championships, comes into the game on the back of an embarrassing 1-1 draw with international minnows Liechtenstein, ranked 141st in the world, in August. Iceland also featured in Norway’s qualifying group for World Cup 2010, where they finished at the bottom. Nevertheless, they managed two draws with Norway during the campaign and Landslaget will need to be vigilant to avoid slipping up against their Nordic cousins when they travel to the Laugardalsvöllur stadium in Reykjavik.
FULL NORWAY SQUAD
Goalkeepers – Rune Almenning Jarstein (Viking), Espen Bugge Pettersen (Molde), Jon Knudsen (Stabæk)
Defenders – Vadim Demidov (Rosenborg), Brede Hangeland (Fulham, England), Tom Høgli (Tromsø), Jon Inge Høiland (Stabæk), John Arne Riise (Roma, Italy), Espen Ruud (Odense, Denmark), Kjetil Wæhler (Aalborg, Denmark)
Midfielders – Christian Grindheim (Heerenveen, Holland), Henning Hauger (Stabæk), Ruben Yttergård Jenssen (Tromsø), Morten Gamst Pedersen (Blackburn, England), Bjørn Helge Riise (Fulham, England), Per Ciljan Skjelbred (Rosenborg), Jan Gunnar Solli (Brann)
Forwards – Mohammed Abdellaoue (Hannover, Germany), Daniel Braaten (Toulouse, France) John Carew (Aston Villa, England), Erik Huseklepp (Brann), Steffen Iversen (Rosenborg)