Egil “Drillo” Olsen, the head coach of Norway’s national football team (landslaget), has chosen a familiar squad of players for an upcoming friendly international match against Poland on February 9 – a match that, rather than being played in either Norway or Poland, will take place at a stadium in the holiday haven of the Algarve, Portugal.
The teams will meet in warm Iberian climes in order to avoid the characteristically harsh North European weather conditions likely to greet the players in either Poland or Norway at this time of year.
Norway will face the Poles – regarded by Olsen as “the team that compares most to Norway” – in a non-competitive match seen as a warm-up for the serious business of their crucial forthcoming European Championship qualifying match against Scandinavian rival Denmark on Saturday March 26. In anticipation of this hugely important game, Drillo has picked a virtually full strength 20-man squad for the game with Poland.
Midfielder Alexander Tettey – a naturalized Norwegian, born in Ghana, who now plays for French club Rennes – is the most notable new face from the squad picked for Norway’s impressive 2-1 away win over the Republic of Ireland in November. Highly rated Tettey, formerly of Norwegian league club champions Rosenborg, has been capped five times for landslaget, and would have received far more international appearances had it not been for his bad luck with injuries.
Olsen has praised Tettey’s return. “It’s a nice reunion,” Norway’s legendary head coach told Aftenposten as he announced Tettey’s place in the squad. “He has got rid of the injuries, and is scoring goals.”
Drillo’s only other severe selection headache was over Bjørn Helge Riise, younger brother of arguably Norway’s biggest football star, Roma’s John Arne Riise. Bjørn Helge has struggled to find a place in his club, English Premier League-based Fulham, and Drillo had some concerns that he could no longer justify a place in the squad for the struggling but talented 27-year-old midfielder. The head coach will no doubt be lifted by reports that the younger Riise brother is likely to be sold to another club where he hopes to find first-team opportunities. Indeed, ‘Drillo’ publicly welcomed another star player’s transfer – that of John Carew, from English-club Aston Villa to Stoke on loan – for these very reasons.
Now ranked 11th in the world
Beyond Tettey’s return, there was further good news for landslaget over the new year period, after world football’s governing body, FIFA, released new world rankings in which Norway rose to 11th place, well above top footballing nations that include their Nordic neighbours, Denmark (28th) and Sweden (33rd).
National football boss Nils Johan Semb, a former landslag coach himself, called it “just incredible” how the squad has climbed from around 5oth place to almost getting into the Top 10. “We get a completely different momentum when it goes so well,” Semb told Aftenposten.
The continued high ranking reflects a very successful 2010 for Norway, which saw them beat Portugal, Iceland and Cyprus on the way to the top of their European Championship qualifying group, as well as beating France and the Republic of Ireland in friendlies.
NORWAY’S SQUAD TO FACE POLAND (clubs in brackets)
Goalkeepers: Jon Knudsen (Stabæk), Espen Bugge Pettersen (Molde)
Defenders: Vadim Demidov (Real Sociedad, Spain), Brede Hangeland (Fulham, England), Tom Høgli (Tromsø), John Arne Riise (Roma, Italy), Espen Ruud (Odense, Denmark), Kjetil Wæhler (Aalborg, Denmark)
Midfielders: Henning Hauger (Stabæk), Erik Huseklepp (Brann), Ruben Yttergård Jenssen (Tromsø), Petter Vaagan Moen (Queens Park Rangers, England), Morten Gamst Pedersen (Blackburn Rovers, England), Bjørn Helge Riise (Fulham, England), Per Ciljan Skjelbred (Rosenborg), Alexander Tettey (Rennes, France)
Strikers: Mohammed ‘Mo’ Abdellaoue (Hannover, Germany), John Carew (Stoke City, England), Morten Moldskred (Rosenborg)