The Norwegian national football team (landslaget) continued to display their renewed promise with a 2-1 win over Ireland in Dublin on Wednesday evening.
The team traveled to Ireland with confidence flowing. Victories over Portugal, Iceland and Cyprus have put Norway at the top of their European Championship Qualifying Group, and the team can boast another friendly victory over France.
Manager Egil “Drillo” Olsen, without star strikers John Carew or Mohammed ‘Moa’ Abdellaoue to call upon, named other top players like attacking midfielders Eric Huseklepp and Morten Gamst Pedersen to face a talented Irish side that sits second in their own European Championship Qualifying Group.
Nonetheless, the Norwegians suffered the worst possible start to the game – Ireland took the lead after just six minutes through a penalty won and converted by striker Shane Long, who was indisputably climbed on by Fulham-based defender Brede Hangeland as he challenged for the ball in the penalty area.
Even though the Irish dominated play for much of the rest of the half, Norway equalized around 15 minutes before half-time through a moment of class from Pedersen, who scored by curling in a beautiful free-kick from 25 yards out. Norway grew with confidence as the half continued, settling into an impressive passing display that left the hosts looking distinctly second-best.
In the second half, Norway continued to compete well with the Irish, with Huseklepp in particular asking questions of the host’s defenders and testing goalkeeper Shay Given on a few occasions. Though Ireland, too, looked more energetic after the break, it was Pedersen who would yet again prove the difference by creating the winning goal with just five minutes remaining. It completed a flowing counter-attacking move with a killer pass to Huseklepp who slotted into the goal with ease from close range.
There was no way back for Ireland, and it was the moments of organized yet classy play that proved decisive for landslaget.
Norway’s next game will be a crucial European Championship qualifying match against fellow Scandinavians Denmark at home in Oslo in March. Despite their win over Ireland coming in a non-competitive friendly, fans will hope that it further underlines the resurgence of Norwegian football and bolsters hopes of the team qualifying for the European Championships in 2012.