Youthful Norway fails Croatian test

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An inexperienced Norwegian national football team was narrowly defeated 2-1 in a fairly unremarkable friendly match against highly-rated Croatia on Tuesday night in Zagreb. The result does not affect Norway’s standing in the European Championship 2012 qualifying campaign, though it was their first loss in four games.

Both teams went into the friendly at the top of their respective Euro 2012 qualifying groups, and made several changes from the line-ups that saw Norway beat Cyprus and Croatia defeat Israel, both away from home, the previous week.

In eight changes for Norway’s team (called landslaget), goalkeeper Rune Jarstein came in for Jon Knudsen, striker Mohammed “Moa” Abdellaoue replaced veteran John Carew and hotly-tipped Rosenborg 18-year-old, Markus Henriksen, made his long-awaited first appearance for the national side. Meanwhile, Croatia also rested senior players such as Tottenham’s Verdan Corluka and Bayern Munich’s Ivica Olić, bringing in Mario Mandžukić of Wolfsburg and Ognjen Vukojević of Dinamo Kiev in midfield.

Moa finds the net
The hosts started brightly, enjoying a greater share of the possession and hitting the bar through a Vukojević header after 15 minutes. Nevertheless, it was Norway that took the lead, as Moa scored his second international goal through a delicate flicked header from a testing free kick delivered by Espen Ruud.

Following the goal, Croatia resumed their territorial dominance, fashioning out a number of chances, including good attempts from full back Gordon Schildenfeld. The home side eventually secured an equalizer through Mandžukić, who got on the end of a Darijo Srna free kick – similar to the one that supplied Norway’s opener – to poke past the goalkeeper.

At half time, Norwegian Head Coach Egil “Drillo” Olsen decided to substitute debutant Henriksen, introducing Stabæk’s Henning Hauger instead. Despite bringing on further fresh legs in the form of Christian Grindheim (replacing Ruben Yttergård Jenssen), Croatia still looked the better team, and took the lead within just five minutes of the restart through a fantastic individual effort from Tottenham’s attacking midfielder Niko Kranjčar.

The rest of the game had little to offer in terms of incidents of note, with both sides’ managers taking the opportunity to experiment and use their substitutes.

Gave the young a chance
Despite the result and the by-the-numbers performance to go with it, landslaget can take comfort from the fact that they fielded a significantly weaker team than the side that started against Iceland the previous week, as Drillo gave younger squad players the chance to earn valuable international experience against a strong set of opponents.

And Drillo was relatively pleased, not least with Henriksen. “Very good, an 18-year-old who goes out like that, very good,” he told Canal+ after the match. Although he had an uneventful debut, fans will be keen to watch the development of Martin Henriksen – surely a future leading star of Norwegian football – as well as taking pleasure in Moa’s flourishing international career.

Norwegian fans now must wait more than four months for the next match – a crucial home-turf face-off against Scandinavian rivals Denmark in the Euro 2012 qualifiers in March – hoping for their still-maturing team to continue its promising form.

Views and News from Norway/Aled-Dilwyn Fisher
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