Euro football dream stays alive

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Norway’s national football team won its third match in a row against a tricky Cyprus side in their latest European Championship 2012 qualifier in Larnaca Friday night. The win puts the Norwegians in a fantastic position for Euro 2012 qualification.

Norwegian head coach Egil “Drillo” Olsen had chosen a nearly unchanged side from the line-up that beat Portugal in a sensational 1-0 win last month in Oslo – the only change being a return for Roma star John Arne Riise. He had missed the previous match because of a bizarre concussion sustained in training. Norway’s experienced star striker, John Carew, was again favoured in attack over the up-and-coming Mohammed ‘Moa’ Abdellaoue, despite further injury doubts over Carew.

Norway went into the match against Cyprus unbeaten in their Euro 2012 qualifying group, having seen off Iceland and Portugal last month. Cyprus also came into the match positively after a memorable and remarkable 4-4 draw with Portugal in Lisbon in September. Known for being difficult to break down at home, and for their fierce performances in front of their own fans, the relatively less renowned Cypriots were certain to provide a test for any team, including Norway.

Norwegian confidence
Nevertheless, Norway kicked off the match looking like the confident group leaders they deserved to be, and found themselves ahead after just two minutes, with John Arne Riise being let in for a simple finish that saw the travelling supporters go wild. Although Cyprus kept possession and passed well, they lacked the class required to muster a response.

Much of the first half was scrappy, with the hosts the main culprits for disrupting the flow of the play, clocking up 11 fouls. Norway always looked the better side, fashioning out a number of corners and good chances that meant they always looked likely to extend their lead – indeed, Eric Huseklepp thought he’d done so from a 15th minute corner, but the referee did not believe the whole ball had crossed the goal line.

In contrast, Cyprus was wasteful in front of goal, failing to draw a single save from Norwegian goalkeeper Jon Knudsen. Striker Michalis Konstantinou was the worst offender, missing with a free header from close range after 40 minutes after great work down the left-wing by Efstathios Aloneftis. After 42 minutes, Norway found the second goal they had threatened the whole half, with Carew turning powerfully, if somewhat fortuitously, on the edge of the box, skipping past one defender and, in the process, bamboozling the goalkeeper, allowing him to slip the ball effortlessly into the back of the net.

Comeback attempt
The second half was a very different affair, with Cyprus looking like a completely different team. After just two minutes, they should have scored, as Andreas Avraam finally drew a fantastic save from Knudsen. The home team then had a number of other chances, three corners and were unlucky when the lively Aloneftis was judged to be offside. With Cyprus dominating possession, they finally broke through the stunned Norwegian defense at 58 minutes, captain Yiannis Okkas scoring easily from close range with the Norwegian defense looking half asleep.

Following the goal, the Cypriots continue to dominate position, but Norway looked more alert and better organized. Despite the Norwegians having to scramble the ball off the goal line after sustained pressure from the hosts at 67 minutes, the away team managed a few chances of their own, most notably a fantastic athletic volley from inside the box by Carew. Cyprus would later hit the Norwegian bar in strange circumstances, but Norway nonetheless held on for a vital victory.

Norway now has three wins from three qualifiers and sits comfortably on top of Group H. They’ll meet Croatia in a friendly face-off on Tuesday, while their next qualifying match will be a tough test against Scandinavian rivals Denmark in March – but for now, the dream of qualification for Euro 2012 is still very much alive.

Views and News from Norway/Aled-Dilwyn Fisher
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